NY Jets should target safety Keanu Neal in free agency

NY Jets, Keanu Neal Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
NY Jets, Keanu Neal Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports /

The NY Jets will look to improve this roster in free agency and safety Keanu Neal would be a solid acquisition. Neal wasn’t franchised-tagged by the Atlanta Falcons and he will be testing the free-agent market.

The 2016 first-round pick had a bounce-back 2020 season under new defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich, who was promoted to Atlanta’s defensive coordinator and play-caller halfway through the season.

After being riddled with injuries in 2018 and 2019, Neal secured 76 solo tackles, nine tackles for loss, and two forced fumbles.

Per Jets X Factor Micheal Nania, Neal surrendered just one touchdown over 582 coverage snaps. In 2020, the 25-year old safety played 55.2 percent of snaps at strong safety or in the box. At 6-foot-1, 211 pounds, Neal is extremely physical and instinctive in the box.

That’s allowed him to be very good in run support over the course of his career. He also has the hit power to separate the ball from the receiver, which resulted in eight career forced fumbles.

The NY Jets have some familiarity with Keanu Neal

Jets safety Marcus Maye is very familiar playing with Neal as both safeties played alongside one another at the University of Florida from 2013 to 2016.

Maye, who was just franchise-tagged by the Jets, excels in that single-high safety role. Adding a thumper like Neal in the box would solidify this safety group.

Ashtyn Davis showed his flexibility as a rookie, lining up at both free and strong safety — he also has experience playing cornerback. The rookie showed glimpses of promise, but struggled mightily at times.

The California standout has blazing speed and may be better suited playing free safety. The Jets could use Davis as a swiss-army knife and have him play all over the field instead of limiting him to strong safety.

Even though Neal will only be 26-years old at the start of the 2021 season, the biggest question regarding him is his injury history. He missed a majority of the 2018 season with a torn ACL and most of the 2019 season with a torn Achilles.

When healthy though, Neal is a very productive player. The Bushnell, FL native has 338 career tackles to go along with 15 tackles for loss.

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The potential need at strong safety and the Ulbrich and Maye connection could help sway Neal to New York.