Quinn’s Falcons go safety-first, and I’m fine with that

Florida’s Keanu Neal poses for photos with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell after being selected by Atlanta Falcons as the 17th pick in the first round of the 2016 NFL football draft, Thursday, April 28, 2016, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

Keanu with Agent Smith. Just kidding. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

The Atlanta Falcons could have taken Reggie Ragland, the best defender on the nation’s best collegiate team. Or they could have taken Shaq Lawson, the best defender on the nation’s second-best collegiate team. Or they could have taken Myles Jack, whom some consider the best defender of this class, albeit one with an extremely iffy knee. They took none of the above.

They took a safety from Florida. According to ESPN’s Scouts Inc., he was the 44th-best player in this draft class. The Falcons made him the 17th pick. His name is Keanu Neal. And before we make our”Whoa” jokes — too late, I guess — I’d like to say this:

I’m fine with Keanu Neal. If he’s a reach (and on paper he is), he’s surely a considered reach. Dan Quinn coaches this team and essentially calls every football-related tune. Quinn was the defensive coordinator in Seattle, where Kam Chancellor was/is the best safety in the business. (Quinn also recruited Neal for Florida when he was the DC under Will Muschamp.) If Quinn believes Keanu can be a Kam, that’s enough for me.

Give the Falcons credit for guts. Any of the defenders mentioned in the opening paragraph would have been a more popular choice than this Gator, but the Falcons — meaning Quinn, I’m reasonably sure — wanted Neal. It could well be that they wanted the wrong guy, but that’s for history to decide. I have no problem with a team that knows what it aspires to be and acts accordingly.

We all pretty much knew the Falcons had to address their defense yet again. (Especially given that their two biggest free-agent guys were a center and a receiver.) Last season the Falcons ranked 16th in total defense — 14th against the run, 18th against the pass. That marked a vast upgrade over the dead last of the year before, the year that led to Quinn being hired here, but it wasn’t good enough to make the playoffs after a 5-0 start.

We note also that those Falcons played the NFL’s second-softest schedule. According to Football Outsiders DVOA  (defense-adjusted value over average) ratings, which take schedule into account, the Falcons’ defense ranked only 22nd. Maybe the improvement wasn’t quite so vast.

This year the Falcons will play the NFL’s toughest schedule. (Tied with San Francisco, actually.) This year they’ll need to be better on defense than they’ve been since … oh, maybe ever. We saw enough of Air Shanahan to believe this team isn’t apt to score in bunches, and if the Falcons can’t stop anybody good they’ll be bound for something worse than 8-8.

Here’s what I’m guessing Quinn was thinking: Vic Beasley Jr., presumably healthy after a so-so rookie season, should supply more juice to the pass rush this time around, but the Falcons lacked an anchor in the middle of that secondary. (Desmond Trufant is an excellent cornerback, but corners tend to be, as the vernacular goes, islands unto themselves.) Neal is a hitter, which any safety should be and Chancellor demonstrably is.

I used to get all caught up in that “reach” stuff, but the older I get the less inclined I am to fault a team for doing its due diligence and targeting the guy it believes it needs. (And anybody who says teams don’t draft for need should take a course titled Reality 101.) The many draft analysts might know a lot about players, but the hope here is that Dan Quinn knows more about Dan Quinn’s team.

He wanted a big safety. He drafted one. Good for him. And now Keanu gets to take the red (for Falcons) pill.

Sorry. Couldn’t resist.

Reader Comments 0

55 comments
Rana Muhammad Bilal
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TOJacket
TOJacket

Is it true that the Browns tried to draft Eason in the 7th round?

Shaun Styles
Shaun Styles

That's why you fools don't run nfl programs

Tyrell Hill
Tyrell Hill

No pass rushers... Just guys who can tackle after gains

Rana Muhammad Bilal
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John1066
John1066

I'm not upset about this pick as many are. I was surprised too and disclaimer, I am NOT a Dimitroff supporter (although pretty sure this was all Quinn anyways). If this guy is going to prevent opposing TEs from gashing us, then welcome aboard. Killed me to see that time and time again even if it was an old Bulldog who was destroying us. Seemed like we had no ability to stop that play. And getting that support does help the pass rush. If QB knows he can't just dump ball off, that gives extra second or two for pressure. We still need to fill needs at LB/DL. But those positions seem to be really deep this year. I admit I have no idea what talent at S looks like, but if there is a big dropoff in talent after Neal or shortly thereafter and thus no quality S would be around in 2nd, then fix that hole and fix other holes in rounds 2 and 3.

And I was not sold in OSU LB (Lee?). I think he's overrated. I did like some of the other guys who were still available, but maybe the gap between their talent and those who will be around in 2nd isn't so wide.

Is this guy the next Ronnie Lott as one reader suggested? Well, that seems a bit extravagant. But next Kam Chancellor or something near that? I'll take it.

3rdbaseman
3rdbaseman

another insane TD related pick, aka Peria Jerry instead of Clay Matthwes or BJ Raji...yeah Rajis taken a hiatus to care for his mom, but he,ll be back and he gave GB several good seasons and we missed him for a player that NEVER made an impact here or anywhere else..  The joke is that TD has pictures on King Arthur... wonder what he has on Quinn, and in such a brief time?. How many of TDs picks are out of the NFL  vs how many are stars or all Pro with another club? the NUMBERS DONT LIE  and I watched each team except maybe the Browns.. who are stockpiling picks for god knows when, improve their team except the Falcons... and to see Dumwitroff high fiving after drafting a safety number one, and a player  of modest caliber... was he all SEC? all American? all anything???  all FCS?



nope... I almost cant bear to watch round 2 when the incompetence in Flowery Branch really gets in gear... Hey I have an idea... why dont we draft a placekicker from Division III ...dont we need one? eventually?

TOJacket
TOJacket

@3rdbaseman News flash!.........DQ has full power over who gets drafted.......wake the F up!

MachDiesel
MachDiesel

And ppl yelling about ATL should've traded back apparently don't realize NO ONE WANTED TO TRADE UP TO THE #17 PICK... THUS FALCONS COULD NOT TRADE BACK. It takes two in order to deal. That should be simple to comprehend.

MachDiesel
MachDiesel

This dude is gonna be a baller. Mark my words. He has pedigree. His brother played safety for the Chargers 2004-2009 (Clinton Hart). The name may not wow you but Neal has pedigree. 

CJS13
CJS13

It doesn't matter. "Air Shanahan" will guarantee we have another terrible season. We know our defense is a work in progress which is why our offense needs to be our strong side of the ball. But Shanahan will make sure we don't score enough points to where our defense won't be able to make up for it no matter who we draft and when. FIRE KYLE SHANAHAN

Eric Lahr
Eric Lahr

The thing is, you could have traded down and still got him. You overpaid.

John1066
John1066

You don't know anyone was willing to give them anything. There was a run on CBs and WRs shortly after our pick. If teams felt like there were several quality players at the position they were looking at, then they are going to move up because at least one will still be around when there pick comes. So why would they give up several mid, to late round picks to move up a few slots when they know one of the guys they have targeted will still be standing?

GloryBetweenTheHedges
GloryBetweenTheHedges

Think about this logic for a minute. Okay, Falcons you can have Ragland in the first and Neal in the second round. You get a guy in Ragland that can do multiple things on defense, plus you get the hard hitting safety you really want. No, that's okay we will just take Neal and go from there.

Jemere Nelson
Jemere Nelson

I would have taken a risk on nkemdiche. Falcons need a nasty d lineman. So what if the safety is making tackles after big gains.

Indydawg
Indydawg

They made this position pick a year early... but hey...

Gman84
Gman84

Falcons draft is synonymous with failure. This is just the latest installment

ATLFan
ATLFan

I would encourage Falcons fans to watch the tape of the post draft Falcons news conference before passing judgement. This was a well thought out pick and Q has a very specific plan in mind for how to use Neal as a main player in his defensive scheme. Whether that pans out or not remains to be seen, but at least it explains why a guy rating lower by some was more highly valued by the Falcons. And apparently a couple of other teams (E.G., the Steelers) were also on that page so we had to take him at #17. Me? I think we just drafted the next Ronnie Lott.

Indydawg
Indydawg


@ATLFan  Ronnie Lott? You must be smoking with a gas mask on....


slydawg
slydawg

Whoa nelly, let's start with Kam Chancellor clone before we climb that mountain.

gt51
gt51

falcons should never give up another passing td with collins and now neal in the secondary.  wait, collins won't be back until week 5 at best. falcons will never give up a passing td after week 4.  buster pick again.  cant wait to see what the falcons do with the 2nd and 3rd rnd picks.  thomas always thinks hes smarter than everyone else.  he can ride his bike to ibm, coke, or bbt next year.  he wont be the gm any longer of the falcons

JustDaFactsMam
JustDaFactsMam

@gt51


That you think TD is made that pick shows just what you know.  Which isn't much.

Buschleaguer
Buschleaguer

@gt51 I really think the coach Quinn made this choice , I doubt TD would have made the reach for Neal. He would have taken the safer pick Lawson or Ragland.

TOJacket
TOJacket

@gt51 DQ makes the final choices so your criticism of TD is at this time ill placed.........this guy was picked by Quinn all the way!

OH:IO
OH:IO

How many dogs got drafted yesterday?

Buschleaguer
Buschleaguer

@OH:IO the question for you Bucky, Who is left in Columbus to play football for the 2016 Buckeyes?

slydawg
slydawg

If the pick was Von Bell, there would not be so many complaints. If you are a fan of SEC football and followed recruiting just a wee bit, then you would know that Neal is a fine, tough as nails football player.

In saying that, the Falcons should have traded back into the 20's and got an additional pick.

Jarren Reed may be the next pick. This is the Falcons biggest need right now. Carl Nassib may be available in the 3rd.

slydawg
slydawg

And the team finally has a player who has the potential to cover tight ends

Rana Muhammad Bilal
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UGA76
UGA76

Quinn is headed back to being a position coach.  He deserves to be fired for endorsing  Dimitroff?  The pick of a late 1st round at best SS at 17 in the first round is another example that Dimitroff doesn't understand the draft.  Atlanta should have traded back to the mid 20's.  Apparently Dimitroff hates draft picks because he continually trades up when not necessary to waste picks or in this case doesn't trade back when he desperately needs a couple more picks.  5-11 should be enough to get both these clowns fired. 

As far as the pick, if Quinn wanted a thumper in the middle, then he should have traded back and taken Ragland.  Neither Neal or Ragland can play on third down.  Ragland is too slow and Neal is worthless outside the box. Neal did make a big hit once and a while but he also got lost in coverage on a regular basis.  No way he can play on third down passing situations. 

 


TOJacket
TOJacket

@UGA76 Are you serious?........you think this guy is coming out of the game on third down? He's a safety?

GaSportsReport
GaSportsReport

@AJCsports needed a game changer. Safety can't do it from 10 yards away. Plus our HC said he's "jacked" for the draft. No wonder we suck

Buschleaguer
Buschleaguer

@GaSportsReport @AJCsports Were you a credentialed member of the press corps at the draft.Obviously you know that on most NFL teams the strong safety plays closer to the box and supports the run defense. The free safety is the one who plays the deep zone over the top.

slydawg
slydawg

So, when Chancellor returned to the Seahawks last year after throwing a hissy fit, he wasn't responsible for their turn around? This draft is loaded with front 7 talent and safeties are in short supply.

Kenny Powers
Kenny Powers

If Bradley is fine with it then you know that the Bradley curse is in full effect. And Neal will be a bust.

Jm73
Jm73

What a joke.this guy may be good. But he could have been available in 2d round. Why blow a first round pick.

Bearrib1
Bearrib1

@Jm73 He may have been available in the second, but would he be available when the Falcons pick in the second?  I've heard some say the Falcons should've traded up. You have to have a partner to do so. Maybe they couldn't find one.