Multiple 2020 NFL Mock Drafts had the Buffalo Bills selecting a safety, Lenoir-Rhyne’s Kyle Dugger, to play as the team’s lost corner in a “big nickel” package. When Dugger didn’t make it to the Bills’ choice, they went with defensive end A.J. Epenesa. Buffalo did not address the defensive secondary in any way until the seventh round of the draft, taking Pitt’s Dane Jackson with their final draft choice.
Were the Bills’ draft plans foiled? Or, is the team content with the depth it’s built along the defensive secondary? In today’s installment of “91 players in 91 days,” we profile one of the more versatile pieces in Buffalo’s secondary—a third-year man whose primary role on defense is that big nickel spot.
Name: Siran Neal
Height/Weight: 6’, 206 lbs.
Age: 25 (26 on 8/4/2020)
Experience/Draft: 3; selected in the fifth round (No. 154 overall) of the 2018 NFL Draft
College: Jacksonville State (Alabama)
Acquired: Fifth-round draft choice
Financial situation (per Spotrac): Neal enters the third year of his rookie contract, a four-year pact worth a total of $2,746,016. For the 2020 season, Neal will carry a salary-cap hit of $821,504 if he makes the 53-man roster.
2019 Recap: After playing only 15 snaps on defense as a rookie in 2018, Neal opened the 2019 season as a huge part of the defense. Through the season’s first five games, he averaged 25 defensive snaps per game, playing as little as one-quarter of the snaps (Week 5 against the Tennessee Titans) and as many as half (Week 3 against the Cincinnati Bengals). Somewhat curiously, that Week 5 game was the last time that Neal played a snap on defense until the season finale against the New York Jets. Neal played his heaviest workload of the season in the Wild Card game against the Houston Texans, playing 68% of the team’s defensive snaps in the 22-19 overtime loss. The play everyone remembers in that game is the one that essentially ended the game—on a 2nd and 6, Neal blitzed from the slot, and he hit quarterback Deshaun Watson, but a collision from linebacker Matt Milano at the same time somehow propped Watson up rather than taking him down. That led to a 34-yard completion to Taiwan Jones. Neal made three tackles in the playoff game, adding a sack, a pass breakup, a tackle for a loss, and a quarterback hit. For the 2019 season, he made 36 tackles, nine of which came on special teams (where he played the third-highest number of snaps on the squad, appearing on 242), one tackle for a loss, and one forced fumble.
Positional outlook: While Neal does appear in a slot corner role on defense more often than not, he is still officially listed as a safety on the team roster. The Bills have seven safeties, Neal included, on the roster right now. The others are Micah Hyde, Jordan Poyer, Dean Marlowe, Jaquan Johnson, Garrett Taylor, and Josh Thomas. Taron Johnson serves as the Bills’ primary slot corner, with Cam Lewis expected to provide some training-camp competition for that spot, as well.
2020 Offseason: Nothing too new to report here, though former Bills special teams standout Lorenzo Alexander believes that Neal is poised for a breakout season in 2020.
2020 Season outlook: Neal is close to a lock for the roster, as his versatility is a coveted trait by the coaching staff and his special teams prowess is a tremendous need. Whether he takes the next step to being a more frequent contributor on defense or continue as a special teams stalwart is the big question. In any case, we fully expect that Neal will be one of the team’s top four safeties come September.