I don’t have to tell you how decimated the 2018 Falcons were by injuries. Losing guys like Deion Jones and Devonta Freeman had a detrimental impact on the team. However, losing both starting safeties - Keanu Neal in game 1 and Ricardo Allen two games later - undoubtedly had the biggest impact on the defense.
While it’s never ideal to lose players for the season, it’s better that they were lost early on. The hope of getting both guys back in 2019 is still there, but how soon will that happen? Let’s take a look at each player and when we might see them on the field again.
Keanu Neal suffered a torn ACL against the Philadelphia Eagles on September 6th. For those that follow sports, a torn ACL is a relatively common injury that almost always ends the season for the athlete. Thankfully, it’s also an injury that most players can recover fully from. Normal timelines say that an athlete can be back to normal function after six to nine months. Six months is considered a minimum, as rushing back from this injury can increase the likelihood of reinjury.
We know that Neal didn’t waste time and got his ACL repair done in September. Based on that, June marks the nine month mark. It did look like Neal was in a good spot during OTAs, though practice without pads isn’t really a great indicator.
Coach Quinn has said both guys are progressing well, which would lead us to believe we’ll see Keanu in a limited capacity for camp and the preseason but ready to go by game one of the regular season.
While the news for Neal looks good, Allen is a different story. He suffered a torn achilles tendon against the Saints on September 23rd. While the timeline for recovering from a torn achilles is similar to that of a torn ACL, getting back to pre-injury form is not guaranteed. According to this study, players that did return from an achilles tear saw declined performance and fewer games played compared to pre-injury. Of the 31 players that suffered the injury between 1997 and 2002, 21 of them made it back to play again in the NFL (64%).
Two recent examples offer some contrasts as well. Jason Peters suffered an Achilles tear in May of 2012 and returned in September of 2013. He remained one of the best tackles in the league even after coming back. Richard Sherman suffered his injury on November 10th, 2017 and was back on the field on September 9th, 2018. Some will point out that Sherman had one of his worst years in 2018, though it was on a 49ers team that was poor overall, so it’s hard to say if his performance has been permanently altered.
We did see Ricardo doing on-field rehabbing back in March, which is a positive sign of progress. Quinn did note that both Neal and Ricardo are on target to return for training camp, but in what capacity remains to be seen.
It seems likely that Allen will be back for training camp, but will probably be limited in his participation as well. I also believe he’ll be “ready” for the 2019 season, but whether or not he’s his old self will be the bigger question.
While it’s highly likely both Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen will be back for the first game of 2019, how effective they’ll be is the bigger question. We should see both guys back early in 2019. Hopefully, they’ll both be performing at a high level again.