As is the tradition with the NFL draft, pundits and analysts make predictions and rank players based on college tape and athletic ability, and then those draft picks go on to prove everyone right or totally wrong. In the case of Falcons rookies Keanu Neal and Deion Jones, it’s definitely the latter.
Mel Kiper, Jr. has ranked rookie performances through Week 6 of the NFL season, and his assessment of Neal and Jones is favorable. Neal is ranked No. 7 among all rookies, and Jones comes in at No. 16. The entire rankings are available via ESPN Insider.
The Falcons selected Neal, a strong safety, with the 17th overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. Kiper had Neal ranked No. 50 on his final pre-draft big board, and he wasn’t ranked the last time Kiper reevaluated rookies because he was sidelined with a knee injury suffered in Week 3 of the preseason.
Neal returned to the field in Week 3 against the New Orleans Saints, and so far he has 32 tackles, two pass deflections and two forced fumbles. He’s adapted to the speed of the game nicely, Kiper notes.
Inside linebacker Deion Jones was ranked at No. 49 on Kiper’s final big board before the 2016 draft, and Atlanta selected him in the second round of the draft, at No. 52 overall. Jones has played very well for the Falcons, with 36 total tackles, including one for loss. Jones also has two pass deflections and one pick six, a 90-yard return off of a Drew Brees interception in Week 3.
Kiper says that Jones plays the pass well and has been productive. He is correct.
Atlanta’s draft choices have been scrutinized extensively, especially considering factors like the entire 2012 draft class being one huge bust. This year, though, it looks like the Falcons ended up with some real gems.