Cover 9@9: Neal makes the Godfather’s instant-impact list

Keanu Neal during the Gators' game against the Missouri Tigers on Saturday, October 10, 2015 at Memorial Stadium in Columbia, Mo. / UAA Communications photo by Tim Casey

Keanu Neal during the Gators’ game against the Missouri Tigers on Saturday, October 10, 2015 at Memorial Stadium in Columbia, Mo. / UAA Communications photo by Tim Casey

The COVER 9@9 is back every Wednesday at 9 a.m. The rookie minicamp is set to start on Thursday and run through Saturday.

1. The Godfather has spoken. The “Godfather” Gil Brandt has released his list of 11 recently drafted rookies who will make an immediate impact on their teams.

Falcons safety Keanu Neal, the 17th player taken in the NFL draft, made the list.

Here’s what Brandt, the former longtime personnel man with the Dallas Cowboys, had to say about Neal:

Think Kam Chancellor, only faster. Neal is very tough and very strong, and he’s a perfect fit for the Atlanta defense. I think he’ll be one of those guys who makes some defensive calls back there and makes the Falcons’  back seven a lot better than it was last year. Opposing receivers will think twice about coming across the middle. Atlanta coach Dan Quinn recruited Neal to Florida when Quinn was on staff there. Neal should also be a very good special teams contributor.

He also listed Tampa Bay kicker Roberto Aguayo on the list.

2. Dimitroff backs his scouts. Falcons general manger Thomas Dimitroff went on the team’s flagship radio and aggressively defended the selection of  Neal.

While taking questions from Rick Kamala and John Michaels, Dimitroff took a shot at Scouts, Inc., which had  Neal rated in the second-round.

He dodged a medical question about Clemson defensive Shaq Lawson’s shoulder and contended that the Falcons “know what we are doing with our pass rush.”

3. Hall to visit.  Veteran cornerback Leon Hall, formerly of the Cincinnati Bengals, is set to visit the Falcons on Wednesday.

Hall, 5-foot-11, 193 pounds, played nine seasons with the Bengals. He was a first round pick (18th overall) out of Michigan in 2007.

Hall has played in 121 games and made 105 starts. He has 26 career interceptions and 112 passes defensed.

He visited the New York Giants on Tuesday.

4. Norman tabs Jones top receiver in NFL. Lost this in the draft shuffle. Washington cornerback Josh Norman, formerly of the Carolina Panthers, discussed the top receivers in the NFL.

“Julio Jones and Antonio Brown,” Norman said in a recent interview on The Players’ Tribune. “One’s a top six pick. One’s a sixth-rounder. Now, how can that be? They don’t look anything alike physically. But mentally, they’re animals. They thrive inside the little box. When I figured that out, I transformed and went to the next level.”

5. Undrafted player signings. Several Georgia State Panthers are headed to NFL rookie camps including safety Tarris Batiste, who posted on Facebook that he will attend the Falcons rookie minicamp.

Also, Coastal Carolina quarterback Alex Ross (former Buford HS), Arkansas State wide receiver J.D. McKissic Appalachian State wide receiver Malachi Jones (Central Gwinnett High) and Florida Atlantic safety Sharrod Neasman and kicker Nick Rose, who once made an 80-yard field goal in practice, are set to attend the rookie minicamp. The Falcons are expected to release their final list once all of the players pass their physicals. Here’s our working list for now.

Here’s Carolina’s list of 7, which includes Duke safety Jeremy Cash.

Here’s New Orleans list of 19 undrafted free agents

Here’s Tampa Bays list of 19 undrafted rookie free agents

6. Here’s at look at CAROLINA’s offseason moves.

122815 ATLANTA: Officials seperate Falcons wide reciever Roddy White and Panthers cornerback Charles Tillman as they get into a tussle after White made a reception during the first quarter in a football game on Sunday, Dec. 27, 2015, in Atlanta. Looking on is Panthers head coach Ron Rivera.   Curtis Compton / ccompton@ajc.com

122815 ATLANTA: Officials seperate Falcons wide reciever Roddy White and Panthers cornerback Charles Tillman as they get into a tussle after White made a reception during the first quarter in a football game on Sunday, Dec. 27, 2015, in Atlanta. Looking on is Panthers head coach Ron Rivera. Curtis Compton / ccompton@ajc.com

Gains: Vernon Butler, DT (first-round); James Bradberry, CB (second round); Paul Soliai, DT (free agent); Gino Gradkowski, C (free agent).

Losses: Josh Norman, CB; Charles Tillman, CB; Roman Harper, S; Jerricho Cotchery, WR.

On the schedule: The Panthers have the 12th toughest schedule (.512).

Comment: The Panthers made the most bizarre move of the offseason by releasing Norman, a former fifth-round pick from Coastal Carolina who had developed into a Pro Bowl player. They tried to cover this bold move by drafting three cornerbacks in Bradberry of Samford, West Virginia’s Daryl Worley and Oklahoma’s Zack Sanchez. The Panthers also scooped up two former Falcons in free agency – Soliai and Gradkowski — to add depth to the offensive and defensive lines.

Offseason grade: D

Gains: Sheldon Rankins, DT (first round); Vonn Bell, S (second round); David Onyemata, DT (fourth round); Coby Fleener, TE (free agent); James Laurinaitis, LB (free agent); Nate Stupar, LB (free agent).

Losses: Marques Colston, WR; Jahri Evans, OG,

On the schedule: The Saints have the fourth toughest schedule (.547).

Comment: The biggest offseason move for the Saints was the re-signing of head coach Sean Payton to a five-year extension. He has been with the Saints since 2006 and the has a 15-5 record against the Falcons during his tenure. He also led the Saints only Super Bowl title. Rankins and Bell should help on defense, but Onyemata, a 6-foot-5, 300-pounder who played at the University of Manitoba in Canada, may turn into one of the steals of the draft.

Offseason grade: A-minus

8. Here’s a look at TAMPA BAY’s offseason moves.

Former Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter is the new coach of Tampa Bay. Mike Smith is his defensive coordinator. .

Former Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter is the new coach of Tampa Bay. Mike Smith is his defensive coordinator. (By D. Orlando Ledbetter)

Gains: Vernon Hargreaves III, CB (first round); Noah Spence, DE (second round); Roberto Aguayo, PK (second round); J.R. Sweezy, OG; Robert Ayers, DE; Brent Grimes, CB;

Losses: Connor Barth, PK; Da’Quan Bowers, DE; Martin Ifedi, DE.

On the schedule: The Bucs have the fifth toughest schedule (.543).

Comment: The Bucs went into the draft trying to help their secondary and pass rush. Hargreaves was considered the second best cornerback in the draft behind Jalen Ramsey and they added defensive end Noah Spence, a top-10 talent who slipped to the second because to failed drug test at Ohio State. The Bucs then made a bold move by trading up to select Aguayo in the second round. He made 49 of 49 field goal attempts inside of 40 yards and was the first kicker drafted in the second round since the Jets took Mike Nugent in 2005. They also spent the second most cash in free agency on Sweezy ($32.5 million), Ayers ($19.5 million) and Grimes ($13.5).

Offseason grade: A-plus

9. Revised Post-Draft Depth chart. Here’s  an updated — post- draft — look at the projected Atlanta Falcons depth chart.

OFFENSE

WR 11 Julio Jones, 16 Justin Hardy, 17 Devin Hester, 87 Devin Fuller, 18 Jordan Leslie

LT 70 Jake Matthews, 76 Tom Compton

LG 67 Andy Levitre, 71 Wes Schweitzer, 64 Collin Rahrig

C   51 Alex Mack, 62 James Stone

RG 65 Chris Chester, 68 Mike Person, 63 Ben Garland

RT 73 Ryan Schraeder, 72 Bryce Harris

TE 83 Jacob Tamme, 80 Levine Toilolo, 81 Austin Hooper, 86 D.J. Tialavea

WR Mohamed Sanu, 14 Eric Weems, 15 Nick Williams, 89 Aldrick Robinson, 89 C.J. Goodwin

QB 2 Matt Ryan, 12 Sean Renfree, 8 Matt Schaub, 1 Matt Simms

RB 24 Devonta Freeman, 26 Tevin Coleman, 33 Terron Ward, 35 Gus Johnson

FB 42 Patrick DiMarco

NICKEL DEFENSE (60 PERCENT)

RDE  99 Adrian Clayborn, 94 Tyson Jackson

DT 97 Grady Jarrett, 95 Jonathan Babineaux

DT 90 Derrick Shelby, 77 Ra’Shede Hageman, 74 Joey Mbu

LDE 44 Vic Beasley Jr., 93 Malliciah Goodman, 52 Tyler Starr

OFFSEASON SPOTLIGHT ON VIC BEASLEY

LB 56 Sean Weatherspoon, 50 Brooks Reed, 41 Philip Wheeler, 59 De’Vondre Campbell 

LB 55 Paul Worrilow, 45 Deion Jones, 91 Courtney Upshaw, 53 LaRoy Reynolds

RCB 28 Akeem King, 32 Jalen Collins

OFFSEASON SPOTLIGHT ON JALEN COLLINS

NCB 23 Robert Alford, 43 DeMarcus Van Dyke

LCB 21 Desmond Trufant, 43 DeMarcus Van Dyke

FS 37 Ricardo Allen, 27 Robenson Therezie

SS 22 Keanu Neal, 30 Charles Godfrey, 36 Kemal Ishmael, 40 Damian Parms

SPECIALISTS

K 3 Matt Bryant

KO 5 Matt Bosher

P 5 Matt Bosher

KR 17 Devin Hester, 14 Eric Weems

PR 17 Devin Hester, 14 Eric Weems

LS 47 Josh Harris

H 5 Matt Bosher

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.


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