Corner is not the only position the Packers need help with in the secondary. Strong safety Morgan Burnett signing with the Steelers last week created another hole in a defensive backfield that already looks like Swiss cheese. Burnett was a jack of all trades with the ability to play linebacker, corner, and safety. Even though he wasn’t much of a ball hawk, Burnett did the best job of filling the void left over from Charles Woodson as a versatile defender. The Packers are prepared to move forward with second-year safety Josh Jones who played 731 snaps on defense in 2017. Jones will likely emerge as the starter during training camp, but it won’t hurt to add depth behind him through the draft. That could be Jacksonville State safety Siran Neal who is a mid-round sleeper with starter potential.
That main knock against Neal is that he played AA football, however, his versatility was on full display. He took snaps at linebacker, corner, and safety over four seasons. His coaches described his varying position as “nickel sam.”
In his first two seasons, Neal was a reserve defensive back, but in 2016 he mostly played linebacker totaling 80 tackles, 11.5 for loss, one interception, and four pass break-ups. Neal was undersized at linebacker measuring 6’0” 200 pounds which prompted him to change positions again.
With a need at corner, coaches lined Neal up in the slot and as a boundary corner in 2017. This proved to be a good decision as he made 39 tackles and led the team with 11 pass deflections.
Neal earned an invite to the 2017 senior bowl making him one of four players in team history to do so.
Neal did not face the toughest competition in the Ohio Valley Conference, but that did not prevent him from standing out at the 2018 combine. He knew it would be an uphill battle proving he belonged coming from a small school.
“I’ve heard it a few times,” he said. “Go extra hard and be better than everybody else like I continued to do throughout the season at Jacksonville State, even in the process be better than everybody else.”
Neal performed well as he ran a 4.56 forty-yard dash and had the third highest vertical jump among safeties (40.5 inches).
His draft projection is somewhere between the fourth and fifth round according to NFL.com.
Neal is listed as a safety but could very well be an occasional nickel corner. His history and production in the box and on the outside make him an ideal candidate for Green Bay’s defense. Neal thrives around the line of scrimmage and is physical in coverage. His versatility has put him on the radar of multiple teams.
General Manager Brian Gutekunst will have plenty of chances to consider Neal with a total of five picks through the fourth and fifth rounds. Neal is a safe pick and would provide depth at a position the Packers need to establish as a strength.
___________________Brandon Carwile was a Cheesehead at birth. His dad grew up attending games at Lambeau and passed on the legacy. Brandon graduated from Longwood University in 2016 with a degree in mass media. He has covered the Packers for over two years and currently works with packerstalk.com. Find him on twitter at @PackerScribe.