Just a few days ago, free agent safety and former member of the Atlanta Falcons, Keanu Neal, signed a one-year deal with the Dallas Cowboys. Already, the former first round pick is expected to make a major position change.
NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported that the Cowboys plan to switch Neal from safety to weakside linebacker for the 2021 campaign. The move was rumored about immediately after the 25-year-old signed this past week and is now something that Dallas is actively working towards.
Neal has shown a strong ability against the run throughout his five-year NFL career. He tallied 100 total tackles in 2020, including nine tackles-for-loss, meaning that he can clearly move downhill well and possibly even thrive as a linebacker. Standing at 6-foot-1, 216 pounds Neal should have the size to keep up at the position.
The change is rather interesting considering that Dan Quinn, Neal’s former head coach with the Falcons, is now the defensive coordinator for the Cowboys. The Florida native was never asked to play linebacker in Atlanta so it’s worth wondering why Quinn would want to make the switch now.
— NFL (@NFL) March 20, 2021
It’s possible that a change in positions is exactly what Neal needs to return to his best form. After making the Pro Bowl in 2017, the former first round pick has been sidetracked with injuries. He played in just four games in 2018 and 2019 before finally making 15 appearances during a solid 2020 season.
The Cowboys also might feel comfortable moving around their current linebackers. Although Leighton Vander Esch seems poised to remain in the middle, 2019 Pro Bowler Jaylon Smith could be moved to a spot better suited for his pass-rushing abilities.
Neal’s lack of time on the field hurt him this offseason, landing him just a one-year, $5.5 million deal. If he’s healthy next fall, and can thrive in a new position, he may find that he’s become one of the most versatile defenders in the league.