The Dallas Cowboys finally went out and signed a safety with some skins on the wall as they agreed to a one-year $5 million contract with former Atlanta Falcons Safety Keanu Neal.
It will be interesting to see how the Dallas Cowboys deploy the Dan Quinn draft pick. According to Josina Anderson, there were conversations about Neal potentially playing weakside linebacker for the Dallas Cowboys. Michel Gehlken of the Dallas Morning News reported that Neal’s position is fluid at the moment.
Keanu Neal is a versatile box safety that can line up at the linebacker position for the Dallas Cowboys.
During the 2020 season, Keanu Neal lined up in the box on 50% of his snaps per Pro Football Focus. Break that down by position and PFF charted 78% of Neal’s snaps in the box at the linebacker position. Though he played just three games in 2019, PFF credited Neal with 94% of his snaps in the box at linebacker. In 2018, he was limited to just one game because of injury but played 85% of his snaps in the box at linebacker per Pro Football Focus. During the 2017 season when the Falcons went to the divisional round of the NFC Playoffs, Neal played 84% of his box snaps at linebacker. In his rookie season in 2016, Neal played 75% of his snaps in the box as a linebacker.
Now a caveat, without knowing the call, there can be some subjectivity as to what constitutes being a linebacker and what constitutes a safety in a given defensive formation. However you slice it, Neal is a box player. In his career, he’s played 44% of his snaps in the box.
Whether you call him a safety or a linebacker, what we do know is that he is a box player that can help the Dallas Cowboys play the run. On 294 run snaps, Neal recorded a stop 10 times. Compare that to Xavier Woods who recorded just 12 run stops on 434 run-downs or Donovan Wilson who had eight run stops on 300 snaps against the run. Neal’s 3.4% run stop percentage would have led the Dallas Cowboys’ safeties.
Neal is a physical player that will help the Cowboys in the middle of their defense. And as John Owning of the Dallas Morning News notes, the Cowboys could plan to use Neal as a nickel linebacker, bringing Wilson in to play strong safety. As teams play a vast majority of their offensive snaps from 11 personnel in the modern NFL, Neal would then be coming here to play linebacker. Also, be sure to check out John Owning’s film breakdown over at the Dallas Morning News.
Bringing in Neal, Defensive Coordinator Dan Quinn and the Cowboys will have a plan for how to use him in their defense. And regardless of how they deploy him, Keanu Neal will provide a positive impact on the Cowboys defense.