The Falcons took a step forward at safety in 2016, and with Keanu Neal in the backfield, the position should be a strength for the foreseeable future.
When the Falcons selected Keanu Neal with the 17th pick in the 2016 draft, we all hoped he would live up to his first-round billing. In his rookie season, Neal demonstrated that he’s the true enforcer the Falcons needed at strong safety, and he’s a talented young player the team can build around for years to come.
Neal finished the season with 106 tackles, and it seems like all of them were bone-crushing hits. He also had nine pass deflections, and he didn’t even play the whole season. He missed the first two games of the year as he recovered from minor knee surgery to clean up an injury that occurred during preseason play.
It’s nice to know that the Falcons have their long-term answer at strong safety. Neal came in as a rookie and played like a veteran, and he should be a solid presence in the Falcons’ defensive backfield for years to come.
Ricardo Allen’s second season at free safety, after transitioning to the role from cornerback a season before, was okay. He seemed to take a step back in some ways early in the season, but as the defense improved over the course of the year, his play evened out.
He still came up with a few game-changing turnovers, and he improved the communication that’s so vital to the role. Allen finished the season with 90 tackles, three pass deflections and two interceptions.
Kemal Ishmael continued to be a serviceable backup until he landed on injured reserve. The Falcons are reportedly working to re-sign Ishmael, who has certainly outplayed his seventh-round draft pick status over the course of his tenure in Atlanta.
The team is currently lacking depth at free safety, and while Akeem King or Brian Poole could both potentially shift to the position, the Falcons will likely bring in someone to compete with Allen for the starting role. Still, Allen has grown into the free safety role, and I would be surprised if he isn’t the starter in 2017.
It’s kind of a theme now with the Falcons defense, but the safety position features two young, talented starters. While depth is something the team needs to address this offseason, the starters are a solid foundation at safety.