FLOWERY BRANCH — When Falcons coach Dan Quinn was in Seattle as the defensive coordinator, he had the hard-hitting Kam Chancellor as his strong safety.
He was the enforcer in the “Legion of Boom” defense.
Quinn was asked to compare Falcons first-round pick Keanu Neal, who’s expected to lead the team’s starting strong safety job, to Chancellor.
“I won’t say – that’s a hard guy to compare to live up to that standard, but I can tell you on the field this is an aggressive player,” Quinn said. “I love that style. I know that’s what makes zone defense come to life. Guys who are going to catch the ball down in the zone, they better get hit and come there with some bad intentions. On tape, he brings that.”
The Falcons would prefer to play a lot of cover-3 zone defense with Neal free to seek and destroy and at times cover running backs and tight ends.
“I think I fit perfectly,” Neal said. “They want a guy who’s interchangeable, a guy who can do more than just one thing and I fit that.”
Neal plans to bring a physical presence to the defense.
“For one, my physicality,” Neal said. “Everyone sees me as a physical player, but also my covering ability. I can stick with guys and play guys in the pass game.”
The Falcons had the 16th ranked defense last season, but struggled on third downs. Teams converted 82 of 191 (43 percent) of their third downs against the Falcons last season, which rated tied for 28th in the league.
“I can see myself making plays all over the field,” Neal said. “This game nowadays is about turnovers. It’s about getting the ball off the field. I can do that.”
The Falcons snapped up Neal with the 17th pick because they didn’t feel he’d slip into the second round. The Falcons believed that Pittsburgh, Carolina and possibly Dallas were poised to take him the first round.
“Atlanta, the Cowboys worked me out, the Panthers who I thought were interested worked me out,” Neal said. “I went on a visit with the Steelers and the Titans. I thought all of those teams were interested. But who was going to take me? I wish I knew before. It was nerve-racking but, in all, I’m thankful to be an Atlanta Falcon.”
THE KEANU NEAL FILE
Round: First (17th overall)
Height: 6-feet | Arm length: 32 3/4″
Weight: 211 pounds | Hand size: 10 5/8″
40-yard dash: 4.62 seconds (Tied with Clemson’s Jayron Kearse for ninth-fastest among safeties)
Bench press: 17 reps of 225 pounds (Tied with Miami’s Deon Bush for fifth-most among safeties)
Vertical jump: 38 inches (Tied with Southern Utah’s Miles Killebrew for second-highest among safeties)
Broad jump: 132 inches (Longest among safeties)
Three-cone drill: 7.09 seconds (Eighth-fastest among safeties)
20-yard shuttle: 4.38 seconds (11th-fastest among safeties)
60-yard shuttle: 11.58 seconds (Fifth-fastest among safeties)
Overview: As expected, Neal’s freakish athleticism was on display at the combine. His broad jump was impressive, as he finished three inches ahead of second-place T.J. Green from Clemson.
The AJC’s D. Orlando Ledbetter & CineSport’s Noah Coslov react to the Falcons draft by getting into the decision not to take pass rushers & identifying players who would have been better picks.