As you should know by now, our attention has now shifted to the 2016 NFL Draft as it relates to the prospects. From now until the draft takes place, we hope to profile as many draft prospects as we possibly can for you. Most of these player profiles will be centered around prospects the Pittsburgh Steelers are likely to have interest in.
A look at another safety in Florida’s Keanu Neal.
#42 – Keanu Neal/S Florida: 6-1, 216
– Plays with vision on the ball carrier
– Very physical
– Form tackler
– Experience in Cover 2, robber, Cover 1, SS
– Quietly athletic
– Plays aggressively, on edge at times
– Understands assignment – outside shoulder when playing contain, etc.
– Works through traffic in the box to the ball
– Fails to blow up lead blockers, plays too complacently in space against FBs
– Too slow coming up from single-high against the run
– Consistently has trouble reading gaps inside against the run, jumps inside
– Seems range-limited in MOF
– Mentally slow to process the game?
– So inconsistent to hit piles
– Accepted Florida over offers from Central Florida, South Florida, Duke, Georgia Tech, Kentucky and South Carolina
– Experience on special teams
– Declared as junior
– 2015 stats: 84 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 2.0 sacks, 1 INT, 1 PD, 1 FF
– Made 2014 SEC Academic Honor Roll
– Missed two games in 2015 with hamstring injury
Although Neal stumbles and loses his balance here in coverage, he recovers in time to see Jake Butt bearing down on him. For those not familiar, Butt is a 6-6, 248 tight end who’s a college wrecker and likely high selection next season. However, Neal’s tackle is absolutely picture perfect. Plant feet, helmet outside body, explode up through ball carrier. He stops Butt cold in his tracks for the stop. This is what you want to see when tackling a runaway train in space.
Here, Neal is playing SS in the box. On a toss outside, he commits inside far too hard off the bat. Why? Too slow of a read step and then too aggressive of a second step to compensate. Instead, he’s caught up chasing the ball carrier at the line of scrimmage instead of keeping his shoulders parallel to the line and shuffling to the sideline. As such, he presents his shoulder to Joe Kerridge, the lead blocker, which is a recipe to get blocked through the end zone.
I have no idea what the playside corner is doing here, because this is man-free, meaning he has responsibility in trail for WR Amara Darboh down the sideline. Instead, he lets his man slip free and open. Michigan QB Jake Rudock underthrows the ball behind the WR, turning him to avoid most of the collision (or it was just a bad throw). Neal comes in like a heat-seeking missile, delivering a shoulder-first hit that rocks the receiver. This is aggressive play, but not illegal.
What’s most noteworthy about Neal is how inconsistent his motor runs. At times, he shies away from getting involved in piles. At others, he does this. I get that Derrick Henry is hard to bring down – he didn’t win the Heisman for nothing. But this is aggressive abandon right here. Neal flies around at times, but at others jogs to the ball. An NFL coach will need to get in his face a couple of times about this.
One more to illustrate how “on” Neal is when playing downhill. He makes contact with the receiver and absolutely bodyslams him. This is enough to give any receiver alligator arms when coming across the middle next time.
If you were an NFL general manager drafting based on flashes of talent, Neal is an early Round 3 project. If you were working from his floor up, he looks like a 4-5th guy. When he’s playing as physical as some of those gifs, he looks like a Day 2 guy. When he is skulking around piles and wanting no part of gang tackles, he looks like a Day 3 selection. It’s as simple as that.
Neal’s flashes are great. He looks like a switch safety, easily capable of playing underneath as a robber/SS or deep at the free safety position. Although he lacks a little ranginess, he has the closing burst and aggression to make a living in the back half of a secondary. His angles in the box can be questionable, but his tackling ability is excellent.
The Florida secondary this past year was stacked, with draftable prospects in Vernon Hargreaves III and Brian Poole as well as underclassmen you’ll get to know next season. For that reason, I was very careful in my evaluation of Neal with the NFL-caliber talent around him. However, his defects are ones easily corrected by NFL coaching. For that reason, I’m inclined to draft him closer to his ceiling. If you liked Vonn Bell, you’ll like Neal – they’re similar-type players. Their versatility will help both play in the NFL, but Neal’s physicality is far more than that of Bell.
Projection: Fourth Round
Games Watched: Ole Miss, at Alabama, Michigan (Citrus Bowl)