Dan Quinn never did get a chance to coach Keanu Neal at Florida. Now he'll have that opportunity, thanks to his Atlanta Falcons selecting Neal with the No. 17 pick of the 2016 NFL Draft on Thursday night.
Neal wasn't thought of as a potential first-rounder when he declared for the NFL Draft in January, but he got a favorable grade from the Draft Advisory Committee — then did everything asked of him and then some in the pre-draft process, including turning in an amazing 11-foot broad jump at the NFL Scouting Combine.
Neal's rep as a hitter precedes him, and he might need to refine his coverage skills to stick in the NFL as a free safety. But as a strong safety, few can match Neal's physicality in run support, and his athleticism, intelligence, and character — "Pn a scale from one to 10," Mel Kiper, Jr. said of Neal's character on Thursday night, "(he's) a 15" — are more than good enough for the Falcons to take a chance that he could still improve considerably on his college form.
Neal joins Vernon Hargreaves as a first-rounder in this NFL Draft, and gives Florida two first round picks for the third time since 2013, when Sharrif Floyd and Matt Elam were each taken on the draft's first day. Dante Fowler, Jr. and D.J. Humphries were selected in 2015's first round, while Dominique Easley was Florida's lone first-rounder in 2014.
Hargreaves and Neal are the first pair of Florida defensive backs ever taken in a single NFL Draft's first round.