WATCH: Why Keanu Neal will be the Falcons’ biggest defensive X-factor in 2019

Emily Barkann

Let’s flash back to the 2018 NFL season opener. The Atlanta Falcons were going up against Super Bowl LII Champions, the Philadelphia Eagles, in early September at Lincoln Financial Field. The Falcons were ready to go—they made it so far the previous season and were ready to redeem themselves against the Eagles and show everyone that they were hungry for more. Right off the bat, one of the Falcons’ biggest assets was sidelined with an injury. Safety Keanu Neal was out with a torn ACL.

Now, almost a year later Neal is recovered and ready to help the team redeem themselves and make another playoff run in 2019. Neal was selected 17th overall in the 2016 NFL Draft—in his first season he had five forced fumbles, 105 tackles and a Super Bowl appearance. The next season he had a Pro Bowl appearance. Losing him in the 2018 season was a huge hit to the team. “He’s one of the ring leaders of our style,” Quinn said.

The saying goes, “everything happens for a reason.” While it is hard to find a reason behind injury—it might help Neal in terms of his attitude towards the game. Neal was lucky to have gone in the first round and have an unbelievable first two seasons. He was gaining some speed and figuring out his place in the League and instantly he was sidelined with an injury. There is no doubt that this will make him hungry for more and eager to prove himself. Having this young energy that has not been exhausted is extremely beneficial to the team. Neal will dominate on this defensive line and be a defining factor for this year’s Falcons.