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Steelers All 90: Keanu Neal Brings Experience, Versatility to Defense



Steelers Keanu Neal

The Pittsburgh Steelers have brought in a decent quantity of veteran defenders this offseason including Patrick Peterson, Markus Golden, and Keanu Neal. All of them bring their own something to the team but Neal brings multiple things as he played safety and linebacker over his first seven seasons in the NFL.

The Steelers attempted to use players like Neal in the past but never got the production to justify the signings, but the team is hopeful that Neal will be the exception. Neal started at strong safety during his years in Atlanta before switching to a linebacker role in Dallas. Last season, Neal converted back to the traditional safety role in Tampa Bay but said to not place him as one or the other here in Pittsburgh.

“It’s really hard to put yourself in a box, and I wouldn’t put myself in a box saying that I’m a linebacker or I’m a safety,” Neal said. “Because I can do multiple things. I can go down and play as a ‘backer role, but I can also play in the safety role. I wouldn’t really give myself a position.”

Neal’s versatility is going to be a problem for opposing defenses as he can really do anything from playing in the box to being a half-field safety. This means that anytime he is on the field, opposing offenses will not have the slightest clue of what his responsibility is on that play.

“It’s kind of like chess,” Neal said. “I see that as a very important piece, having guys that can move around and do different things. I feel like it’s very important. We’re definitely growing in that aspect, doing different things, disguise, movement, having guys in different places, that’s definitely going to mess up the QB on opposing teams.”

The Steelers now have multiple guys that can fill multiple roles on the defense including Neal, DeMarvin Leal, Damonte Kazee, Peterson, and a few others. Neal is right about the importance of being able to move players around to confuse the defense. The ability to put something on film and then change it during the game should pay dividents for the defense this season.

“That’s the goal is to continue build our disguise package and get a feel for that,” Neal said. “I feel like we’re doing a pretty good job of that right now. We’re still growing, still learning, still building that piece. We have a long way to go, but we’re stacking the right direction.”

While Neal’s exact role may never be defined, he is set to make a huge impact on the Steelers’ defense in 2023.

31 • Keanu Neal, Safety, Florida
6-foot-0, 211 pounds, 27 years old, 8th Season

Acquired: The Steelers signed Neal to a two-year contract on April 4, 2023, after his contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers expired.

Last season: After a season of playing linebacker in Dallas, Neal signed a one-year contract with the Buccaneers and played in all 17 of the team’s games at safety in 2022. He started eight games after an injury in the secondary catapulted him into the starting role.

Neal intercepted his first and only pass of 2022 in Week 16 against the Arizona Cardinals. He finished the year with 63 total tackles, two tackles for loss, one interception, and four passes defended.

Steelers Safety Keanu Neal

Tampa Bay Buccaneers safety Keanu Neal reacts during the first half of an NFL football game against the San Francisco 49ers in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Dec. 11, 2022. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

Career: After the Atlanta Falcons selected Neal with the 17th overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, he won the starting in camp but suffered an injury that kept him out of the first two games of the season. Neal made his NFL debut and first career start in Week 3 against the New Orleans Saints as he recorded four combined tackles and a pass defended. The Falcons made the Super Bowl in Neal’s rookie season but lost to the New England Patriots 34-28. Neal finished the year with 106 combined tackles, two tackles for loss, and eight passes defended.

In 2017, Neal started all 16 games for the Falcons and made 116 total tackles, four tackles for loss, one interception, and six passes defended. Neal earned his highest PFF grade (78.3) of any of his first seven seasons in 2017.

During the 2018 season opener, Neal tore his ACL against the Philadelphia Eagles and missed the rest of the season as a result.

The next season was not forgiving for Neal as he tore his Achilles tendon in the first half of the team’s Week 3 game against the Indianapolis Colts. As a result, he missed the rest of the 2019 season.

Neal bounced back in 2020 as he played in 15 games for the Falcons and recorded 100 combined tackles, nine tackles for loss, one interception, and two passes defended.

In 2021, Neal signed with the Dallas Cowboys on a one-year contract and played in 14 games as he made 72 combined tackles and four tackles for loss.

After a season in Dallas, Neal moved to Tampa Bay and played in all 17 games for the Bucs as he totaled 63 tackles, two tackles for loss.

Year Team GP Tackles TFLs INTs Passes Defended PFF Rating
2016 ATL 14 106 2 0 8 75.9
2017 ATL 16 116 4 1 6 78.3
2018 ATL 1 2 0 0 0 62.4
2019 ATL 3 14 0 0 0 43.1
2020 ATL 15 100 9 1 2 68.2
2021 DAL 14 72 4 0 0 35.9
2022 TB 17 63 2 1 4 57.7

Keanu Neal at training camp with the Atlanta Falcons, July 30, 2016.

CollegeNeal committed to the University of Florida and played in 12 games as a true freshman, mostly on special teams. He finished the year with five tackles.

In 2014, Neal played in 10 games with eight starts at safety for the Gators. He totaled 45 tackles, three interceptions, and seven passes defended as a true sophomore.

As a junior, Neal started 11 of 12 games at strong safety and led the team with 51 solo tackles as he finished with 96 combined. He also intercepted one pass and defended two more. After his junior season, Neal declared for the NFL Draft.

Year GP TKLs INTs Passes Defended
2013 12 5 0 0
2014 10 45 3 7
2015 12 96 1 2

Salary cap and future: Neal is entering the first year of his two-year, $4.25 million contract that he signed with the Steelers this offseason. Neal will cost $1.54 million against the Steelers’ cap space in 2023. Neal’s contract contains a salary of $1.08 million in 2023 with a $460,000 bonus. Neal will become a free agent following the 2024 season.

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