The Atlanta Falcons, who entered this year's NFL draft with just five total picks, needed to find a legitimate starter with the 17th overall selection Thursday. Owner Arthur Blank made a point to say he wanted to see three starters come out of those five picks. So the Falcons addressed a hole on defense with the selection of Florida strong safety Keanu Neal, who was recruited to the Gators by Falcons coach Dan Quinn, formerly Florida's defensive coordinator.
My take: My hunch is that Neal was high on the Falcons' board, but it seemed more likely for him to be targeted in a trade-down scenario since Neal got a second-round grade from ESPN draft expert Todd McShay. But the Falcons clearly felt comfortable enough with him to overlook UCLA linebacker Myles Jack and Clemson pass-rusher Shaq Lawson. Neal is a strong safety who can run but can also hit like a linebacker. It's easy to see him playing a Kam Chancellor-type role in the Falcons' Cover 3 scheme. Quinn believes Neal has the ability to cover tight ends, which has been a struggle for the Falcons. And Quinn also believes having Neal's coverage on third down will aid the pass-rush issues. The Falcons needed to address their defensive holes before anything else, and adding Neal helps at least one glaring need in the secondary. The Falcons cut ties with William Moore because he couldn't run the way he used to. And they didn't have confidence in Kemal Ishmael to step in as the starter.
No place like Atlanta: Neal told ESPN.com Thursday afternoon that he would love to get a call from the Falcons. Well, it happened, and Neal is now headed to his desired destination. Here is what he said about the Falcons about a week ago when asked if Atlanta was the best fit: "For me, schematically, yes. I feel like that's a great fit for me and my style of play. The coaching staff is authentic. I can tell they really care about each other and the program. I feel like [secondary coach] Marquand Manuel can really help me out as a person and a player. And Coach Quinn, he's a tremendous head coach. Getting under him, getting under his wing and learning will skyrocket my career."
What's in a name? Neal is named after actor Keanu Reeves, as you might expect. "Everything he's been through, he's stayed humble and grateful," Neal said of Reeves. "He gave all his 'The Matrix' revenue to a charity. Really good dude.''
What's next: The Falcons will enter Day 2 with needs to fill at linebacker, pass-rusher, offensive guard, cornerback and tight end. Look for the inside-linebacker spot to take precedence over the others given how much Quinn has talked about improving speed at that position. The next pick for the Falcons is the 50th overall selection in the second round.
The Falcons entered the draft with just five picks total after losing their fifth-rounder and sixth-rounder. They forfeited the fifth-rounder for piping crowd noise into the Georgia Dome, and they traded the sixth-rounder (No. 93) to Tennessee for left guard Andy Levitre.