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NFL Free Agency Report: Jets Interested in Keanu Neal - why that makes sense for the team

NFL: Denver Broncos at Atlanta Falcons Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Day two of Free Agency was a little uneventful, not just for the Jets but for the league in general. We head into day three with plenty of top-talent still available, and with markets yet to develop for some position groups, Joe Douglas is biding his time. Not a bad tactic when you still have plenty of money.

One name that has been linked with the Jets is former Falcons safety Keanu Neal. This makes sense for a lot of reasons. Jets offensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich came over from the Falcons, so he has familiarity with Neal, they ran a similar defensive concept in Atlanta that we’ll see here in New York and Neal has scheme flexibility.

If Saleh’s defense looks anything like the one he ran in San Francisco then you need your strong safety to be capable of doing a lot of things. This isn’t the old Seattle system where the strong safety basically always plays at the line of scrimmage. Saleh’s defense in San Fran in 2019 and 2020 only had 4 linemen on the line instead of 5 and had the strong safety play everywhere, and I mean everywhere.

Keanu Neal did everything pretty well in 2020, he wasn’t elite in any one area, but he also wasn’t very weak in any particular area anyway.

There was one tweet outside of the Jets being interested in Neal that I found interesting. Neal said that he would be willing to play linebacker as well as safety with his new team. Now personally I don’t see him as a permanent linebacker in the system, but San Francisco’s strong safety Jaquiski Tartt (who’s also available) was often asked to play as the 3rd linebacker against certain personnel looks in Saleh’s preferred “Wide-9” system. Scheme versatility is key.

The Jets have Ashtyn Davis who has a lot of potential, but he’s also very vulnerable in coverage at the moment. Under the old Seattle model, Davis’s ability against the run would be ideal, in that system the strong safety has to cover but not as much as in other systems. However, Davis allowed a passer rating into his coverage of 139.6 in his rookie year, compare that to the 97.9 for Neal and you can see the gap in coverage ability is quite vast.

I can see the Jets targeting either Tartt or Neal to come in and play the main role of the SS with Davis coming in to utilise his speed and run-stopping ability in certain scenarios and against certain looks, Saleh has and will use 3 safeties on the same field.

It’ll be interesting to see what the Jets do today, but It wouldn’t surprise me to see them add a strong safety.