In his first two NFL seasons with the Falcons, safety Keanu Neal was one of the best in the league at his position. However, he has barely played the past two years due to injury. Here are Neal’s odds at Mybookie to win 2020 NFL Comeback Player of the Year as well as the Falcons’ over/under win total.
Neal was a first-round pick by the Falcons in the 2016 draft out of Florida, and Neal made an impact immediately. Drafted to play the Kam Chancellor-role, Neal is a hard-hitting safety who can cover and plays every down. Neal’s mentor is Chancellor and he keeps a signed Chancellor jersey in his locker to pay respect.
Neal as a rookie helped lead the Falcons to Super Bowl LI, in which of course Atlanta blew a 28-3 third-quarter lead and lost 34-28 to the Patriots in overtime – still the only Super Bowl OT. Neal was all over the place in that came with 13 tackles, nine solo. He finished the 2016 regular season with 105 total tackles (72 solo), nine passes defended, five forced fumbles, and one fumble recovery in 14 games. His five forced fumbles were the most by a defensive back since Dwight Lowery had five in 2008.
Neal was even better in 2017 as he recorded 113 tackles (81 solo) with three forced fumbles, four tackles for loss, two fumble recoveries, one interception and five passes defensed. Neal added 13 tackles (11 solo) with one pass defense, one fumble recovery, and one tackle for loss in two postseason games. He named to the Pro Bowl.
However, Neal missed the 2018 season after tearing his ACL during the opening game at Philadelphia. Neal first twisted his knee in the first half but was able to return. He again injured the knee on a non-contact play in the second half.
Last season, Neal played in three games with three starts and recorded 14 tackles (11 solo) before spending the remainder of the season on injured reserve due to an Achilles injury. Neal suffered the injury right before halftime of the loss to the Indianapolis Colts while running toward the end zone. He fell down in pain, threw his helmet and was in tears as he was carted off the field. Teammates said he screamed out, “my f—ing Achilles” after the injury.
Neal has been working out and should be ready for Week 1. He talked about how difficult it was working back from one serious injury just to have another one early the following season.
“By God’s grace, I feel awesome,” Neal said. “I feel like myself again. I’m grateful. These past couple of years have been tough. I try not to look at the negatives. I try to think positive about it. I’ve [had] a lot of opportunities to spend time with my wife, family, friends and groom myself personally. It’s been tough, but it’s been a great time.”
There’s no question that because of his size and speed, that Neal can be and has been used in a number of different ways in that defense. He definitely offers a lot of versatility and, because of that, coaches can move him around in different packages and also disguise some coverages. This season, Neal could be allowed to play alongside Damontae Kazee and Ricardo Allen as a third safety or linebacker hybrid to provide his thump in the run game.
The Falcons exercised Neal’s fifth-year option for 2020, but that also adds the pressure of knowing he’ll have to remain on the field and get back to prime form if he’s to command a new contract. when Neal has started at least 14 games in a season, the Falcons have made the playoffs and are 21-13 in games that he starts.
Atlanta is currently a 1-point home underdog Week 1 against the Seattle Seahawks.