On day three of the 2018 NFL Draft, the Buffalo Bills used the 154th pick to select Jacksonville State cornerback Siran Neal. While Neal played corner in college, it’s expected that he will make the transition to safety in coach Sean McDermott’s defense. What should Bills fans expect from Neal as a player? Here’s what Neal’s college film tells us.
Siran Neal came to Jacksonville State as a defensive back. He immediately began to see significant action freshman year and tallied 32 tackles and 3 passes defensed as a backup. This role continued into his sophomore year, where he was able to improve his numbers to 40 tackles, 4 passes defensed to go with a forced fumble and an interception. His junior year, Neal was asked to make a position switch to linebacker, a position to which he immediately took. After earning a starting job, the former Gamecock finished with 80 tackles, 5 passes defensed, a forced fumble, and an interception. His senior year, Neal again was asked to make a position switch, this time to cornerback. Surprisingly effective, Neal had 12 passes defensed to go with 39 tackles, a forced fumble, and an interception while earning All-Conference honors.
Neal offers decent size for the safety position at 6’0”, 206 pounds. That size meant that he was able to contribute in run defense for Jacksonville State. The tape shows a player who loves to lay big hits on incoming runners. In coverage, Neal specialized in press-man. After disrupting receivers at the line, he excelled at turning his head and keeping his eyes on the ball in the hopes of an interception or a pass break up. Neal plays the ball in the air exceptionally well. Athletically speaking, the senior finished in the top ten percentiles for his position in most of the 2018 NFL Combine events.
Despite his ability to play the ball when it’s in the air, Neal tends to get much to handsy with his receivers. Because he doesn’t have the long speed to stay with wideouts down the field, he was frequently forced to grab receivers to slow them down or simply just to locate them. He will need to clean up that tendency in the pros. In zone coverage, Neal lacks the instincts needed to excel in that area and did not appear to be comfortable in open space. Typical of small-school college safeties, Neal likes to hit but can forget to wrap up runners. While playing multiple positions can be seen a strength, Neal’s lack of development in any one position means the Bills will need to be patient in developing him for a specific defensive role.
Sean McDermott and Leslie Frazier like their safeties to have experience as cornerbacks in coverage and Siran Neal certainly checks that box. Before he is able to see the field however, Neal desperately needs to clean up his tendency to commit pass interference when receivers are at the top of their routes. If he’s unable to, he ceiling will likely remain as an NFL backup.