Atlanta Falcons coach Dan Quinn finally got his wish.
The former Florida defensive coordinator recruited Keanu Neal to the Gators and pursued the hard-hitting safety again as a draft prospect, selecting him with the 17th overall pick.
Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff introduced Neal at a press conference in Atlanta on Friday.
“You saw the toughness from high school and you knew those traits were going to carry over into college,” Quinn said of Neal. “Although I didn’t have the opportunity to coach him, I’m certainly pumped up that I have the opportunity to do that now. I thought hopefully one day I would, and certainly that day has come.”
Neal was initially projected by analysts as a third- or fourth-round pick, though he said the NFL gave him a second-round grade. But the Falcons targeted Neal from the get-go and knew other teams were considering him in the first round.
“Our staff always had him as a first-round pick,” Dimitroff said. “I’m very proud of the prowess of our scouting staff as far as evaluating and slotting properly. … We felt very comfortable where he was. He was right up there at the top of the board.”
Despite the first-round speculation that surrounded Neal in the days leading up to the draft, he said the buzz never became a reality in his mind. But he had a hunch that Atlanta was high on him.
“All you can do is hope and pray,” Neal said. “You never know with the draft. Anything can happen, but with the private workout I did with them, I had a great time. I just felt a sense of at-homeness.”
Below is video of Neal’s introductory press conference (starts at 15:00):