Keanu Neal signing will help Steelers make up for the loss of Terrell Edmunds

Steelers, Keanu Neal
Steelers, Keanu Neal / Cooper Neill/GettyImages

When Terrell Edmunds waved goodbye to the Pittsburgh Steelers on social media recently, many fans were upset. The Steelers were losing a respectable player in their secondary and the price was right to retain him. A report later surfaced that Pittsburgh offered Edmunds a contract, but he opted for a fresh start with the Philadelphia Eagles.

Edmunds' departure left the Steelers very weak in terms of depth at the safety position. Though they were able to retain Damontae Kazee on a two-year, $6 million deal in free agency, the depth of Tre Norwood, Miles Killebrew, and Elijah Riley seemed quite underwhelming.

Recently, the Steelers came to terms on a contract with safety Keanu Neal. The former Falcons player was the 17th overall pick by Atlanta back in the 2016 NFL Draft. In his second NFL season in 2017, Neal earned Pro Bowl honors for recording a whopping 116 tackles, 4 tackles for a loss, 3 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries, and an interception in 16 games, per ESPN stats.

The past five years have not gone nearly as well for neal. In 2018 and 2019, the injury bug struck and Neal combined to play just 4 of a possible 32 games. After a bounce-back season in 2020, Neal his rock bottom in 2021 -- earning a 35.9 overall grade in 14 games with Dallas. However, a switch to linebacker very well could have been to blame.

This past season with the Buccaneers, Neal's performance was a bit more respectable. So what should we expect from the veteran safety in 2023?

Neal can replicate Edmunds' role for the Steelers

Terrell Edmunds was a full-time player for the Pittsburgh Steelers over the past five seasons -- a guy who rarely got injured, or even left the field for that matter. Keanu Neal isn't going to be that player, but he can replicate a lot of the things Edmunds did well.

While Neal may not be an elite defensive back in coverage or playing in space, he's been excellent as a box defender for most of his career. In Nickel and dime situations, Neal is a player who can slide into the box in a linebacker-like role.

Last season, Neal had a pedestrian coverage grade of 63.1 among NFL safeties, per Pro Football Focus, but his 74.2 pass-rush grade was good for 9th in the league at his position. Though Neal has never been a fast player, he's still explosive in short areas and can carry tight ends up the seam with his frame (6'0'', 211 lbs.) and Length (32 3/4'' arms).

The part that Steelers fans are sure to love most about his game is his physicality. Keanu Neal never met a collision he didn't like. He will come downhill and thump a running back in the hole or make wide receivers pay on screen passes and slants.

Unlike Edmunds, Neal isn't going to be a full-time starter for Pittsburgh. In fact, I would fully expect Damontae Kazee to have the bigger role in the secondary (thanks to his coverage ability and ball skills). Still, Neal could have a niche as a box safety and even the dimebacker role for the Steelers.

The addition of Neal doesn't mean that the Steelers won't target a safety in the NFL Draft (or even that they won't take one early), but it does give them added flexibility to ignore the position in the first few rounds if choose to address more important positions of need.

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Keanu Neal is only 27 years old, but he does have a lot of wear and tear on his body from massive collisions and season-ending injuries over the years. Still, he will help the Pittsburgh Steelers make up for the loss of Terrell Edmunds. We know Minkah Fitzpatrick is going to be good. The combination of Kazee and Neal could prove to be a very respectable pairing that complements each other well at the safety position.