Atlanta Falcons head coach Dan Quinn probably started thinking about Keanu Neal just after Christmas 2014. Neal was a sophomore at the University of Florida at the time. Quinn was in his second year as the Seattle Seahawks' defensive coordinator. The Seahawks were playoff bound and Quinn's defense was dominant. He had to know that desperate teams would soon be courting him, including the Falcons.
Quinn would be given the opportunity to build his team. And what defense is complete without a hard hitting safety? Quinn recruited Neal. He must've had Neal in mind. Fast forward nearly two years. The Falcons "reached" on Neal late in the first round of April's draft. There were plenty of reasons to believe in Neal. Even so, his injury in the preseason had many wondering what if anything he'd contribute this season. But now, seven games in, he's one the NFL's best rookies. In fact, according to Pro Football Focus he's the NFL's 8th best rookie.
The rookie safety continues to exceed our expectations, as he was once again not the problem for the Falcons' defense against the Chargers. He was targeted eight times in the game and surrendered only two catches for 34 yards. If it wasn't for one bad game against the Panthers, Neal would be in the top-five of our safety rankings.