Can function in pass coverage in the deep part of the field
Reads a quarterback's eyes
Takes good angles
Covers a lot of ground in the middle of the field
Can execute strong and free safety responsibilities
Can play zone or man schemes
Athletic enough to help in coverage on tight ends and running backs
Reliable as the last line of defense
Keeps plays in front of him
Could contribute on special teams
Should be able to play quickly
Very devoted to football
Experienced and successful against good college talent
Can go for knockout blows rather than wrapping up
Could use some development in coverage skills for the NFL
Summary: In the passing-driven NFL, safety play is critical even though the position has been devalued in the NFL draft to an extent. Teams need safeties who can help cover receiving tight ends and play-making receivers, yet still stop the run. Neal is a talented, versatile prospect who is well made for the NFL's current style of safety play.
Neal served as a backup before earning a starting spot during his sophomore season. In 2014, Neal had 45 tackles with three interceptions and four passes broken up. It was an impressive debut as the first-year starter showed his versatility. Fellow safety Marcus Maye landed in then-head coach Will Muschamp's doghouse for some busted coverages, so Neal was entrusted with playing some deep free safety and he did well as a center fielder. Neal made some clutch splash plays with interceptions and forced fumbles.
In 2015, Neal was the Gators' strong safety and a leading component on one of the best defenses in college football. He totaled 85 tackles with a pass breakup and an interception on the year. With Maye back in the lineup and playing well, Neal was a traditional strong safety as a junior. He was a violent run defender who was an intimidator in the middle of the field. The one consistent flaw from last year was Neal goes for the knockout blow too often and needs to focus on wrapping up ball carriers. When he does wrap up, Neal is a good tackler.
For the NFL, Neal could fit in a defense that alternates its free and strong safety pre-snap. That makes it a lot harder for quarterbacks to diagnosis where coverage will be. Neal has the speed and athleticism to cover in the deep part of the field and the strength to function as a strong safety. He also could serve as a strong safety 100 percent of the time.
With some development and experience, Neal also has the potential to be a free safety. He has demonstrated the ability to run with receivers and other targets to prevent separation. In zone coverage, he is very good and has impressive diagnosis skills.
Off the field, sources say Neal is a high-character individual. He is a nice guy, comes from a good family, and is very devoted to football.
In the 2016 NFL Draft, some teams have given Neal second-day grades, and others think he could be a late first-rounder in a draft that doesn't have 31 players with first-round grades.
Player Comparison: Adrian Wilson. In the NFL, I think that Neal could be a poor man's version of Wilson. For a decade, Wilson was one of the best strong safeties in the league. He was a third-round pick in 2001 out of N.C. State, but obviously Wilson should have been drafted higher.
Both Wilson and Neal are physical football players who are always around the ball. Wilson (6-3, 230) is bigger than Neal, but when Wilson entered the NFL, he was 213 pounds. Over his impressive career, Wilson was a five-time Pro Bowler and three-time All-Pro selection. Neal has a similar game to Wilson and could be a potential special strong safety.
NFL Matches: Pittsburgh, Carolina, Tennessee, San Diego, Miami, Tampa Bay, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, Oakland, Indianapolis and Washington
Late in the first round, Neal could be in play for the Steelers. He would be a good scheme fit for them. They need to upgrade Will Allen and Neal would bring a physical presence back to the the defensive backfield.
A few picks later, the Panthers could consider Neal. His athleticism and hard-hitting would fit well in Carolina's defense.
At the top of the second round, the Titans could consider Neal if they pass on Jalen Ramsey in Round 1. San Diego lost Eric Weddle in free agency and may not land Ramsey in the first round either. Taking Neal early in the top of the second round would make sense for whichever team doesn't land Ramsey.
Miami needs a corner to replace Ben Grimes and give the team a lead corner. The Bucs badly need to upgrade their secondary. They have to improve their corners and safety. Neal would make a lot of sense for Tampa Bay in the second round.
In California, the Rams lost Rodney McLeod in free agency, and that leaves a hole at safety in their defense. The Raiders have to replace Charles Woodson. Neal would be a quality replacement for Woodson if they can land Neal in Round 2.
The Colts and Redskins need help at both defensive back positions. If Neal slides in the second round, he would make sense for Indianapolis or Washington.