NY Jets one of two finalists for former Pro Bowl safety Keanu Neal

NY Jets, Keanu Neal (Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images)
NY Jets, Keanu Neal (Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images) /

The NY Jets have been connected to former Pro Bowl safety Keanu Neal quite a bit this offseason. And one recent report seems to indicate that they might be nearing a deal.

Josina Anderson reported on Friday night that the Jets are one of two finalists, along with the Dallas Cowboys, for Neal. Interestingly enough, both teams plan to play him at weak-side linebacker.

That’s probably why the Jets are still interested in signing him, even after the addition of safety Lamarcus Joyner on Thursday. Neal won’t be playing his natural strong safety position.

Instead, he’d likely play somewhat of a hybrid role as a linebacker/safety. And in reality, that isn’t much of a departure from the role he played with the Falcons.

Keanu Neal would be an excellent fit for the NY Jets

A first-round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, Neal quickly established himself as one of the best young safeties in football when he made the Pro Bowl in just his second professional season.

Unfortunately, his career would take a turn for the worse after suffering a torn ACL in the 2018 season-opener. He would go on to miss the rest of the season before returning in 2019, looking to recapture his Pro Bowl form from two years prior.

But then, just three games into the season, disaster struck when Neal suffered another serious injury, this time a torn Achilles which would also keep him out the remainder of the year.

Neal did return in 2020 and put together a fully healthy season, but it was clear he still wasn’t 100 percent recovered from his Achilles tear a year earlier. Now two years removed going into 2021, there’s reason to believe the Pro-Bowl version of Neal could return.

The Jets are set at the safety position with Marcus Maye and Ashtyn Davis joined by the aforementioned Joyner. But Neal could occupy a hybrid role playing down in the box on most downs.

That’s somewhat how the Falcons utilized him in Atlanta with more than 60 percent of his snaps last year coming in the box. And on nearly 40 percent of the snaps, he was designated as one of the team’s linebackers.

He’s a tad undersized for the position at just 216 pounds, but he could fill that Mark Barron/Deone Bucannon role in Robert Saleh’s defense as a hybrid safety/linebacker.

The addition of Neal would help further upgrade a Jets’ linebacker corps that’s set to look completely different in 2021. Along with the return of C.J. Mosley, the Jets also signed athletic linebacker Jarrad Davis.

Neal, Mosley, and Davis would give the Jets arguably the fastest and most athletic linebacker group in the NFL — perfect for the type of defense Saleh likes to run.

And given his connection to both Maye (teammates at Florida) and new defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich (coached him his entire career in Atlanta), it’s easy to see why Neal is considering the Jets.

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Keanu Neal would be another major addition to a Jets’ defense that could be set for a much-needed bounce-back 2021 season.