Even though I’m on record saying I think Foyesade Oluokon is oozing with potential for a breakout 2020, the Falcons are going to be paper-thin at linebacker with Vic Beasley on the way out and De’Vondre Campbell’s chances of returning looking slim to none.
Oluokon and Deion Jones can only do so much. This will make EDGE/Linebacker a huge priority in the draft and free agency. However, thinking outside the box (no pun intended), the Falcons current roster could provide an interesting solution.
Keanu Neal is expected to earn about $6.5 million in base salary this year. He’s been an amazing safety when healthy, but after suffering a torn ACL and torn Achilles in back to back seasons, I’m not sure if he’ll ever be the same player again. As much as I love Neal, instead of casting him aside next offseason, I think trying him out at linebacker could be an interesting experiment.
Neal has the size to hold his own as an outside linebacker. 6’1″ & 216 isn’t massive for the position, but smaller guys who can cover a lot of ground are trendy in today’s pass-happy NFL. He has the coverage skills, notching 14 pass breakups and a pick in 2016 & 2017. He is a knockout hitter that delivers punishing blows. Coming up and playing the run along with blitzing shouldn’t be an issue for Neal.
The Falcons actually have some decent depth at safety. Ricardo Allen has proven to be at least serviceable in his time with Atlanta. Damontae Kazee led the league in picks in 2018. Sharrod Neasman is a quality backup, and Atlanta will more than likely snag a DB in the draft.
After only playing 4 games over the past 2 seasons, I’m willing to try anything to keep Neal on the field. If he has lost a step due to the injuries, linebacker would be a natural progression for him. He could be elite as an outside coverage backer and provide serious run support for the Falcons defense.