Losing Reggie Nelson was a bigger blow to the Bengals than they are probably willing to admit. Shawn Williams seems like he's got what it takes to be a solid starter for the team, but who is going to fill in should something happen to him? Don't forget, he's a free agent next year. Therefore, it probably makes sense for the team to be looking for a talented safety in this year's draft to prepare for any scenario.
One player who could fill that need very well is Keanu Neal. He's reminiscent of Shawn Williams in that he loves to hit hard, but also brings the element of run stopping ability to the table. He might require a higher pick than the Bengals want to invest in a backup safety with no guarantee of starting, but his playing style fits so well with the Bengals' defensive scheme.
Height/weight: 6'0", 211 lbs
Arm Length: 32 3/4"
3-Cone drill: 7.09 sec
Vertical Jump: 38.0"
Broad Jump: 132.0"
40-yard dash: 4.62 sec
NFL Comparisons: Kenny Vaccaro (NFL.com), Adrian Wilson (Walter Football)
As a player potentially projected to be taken off the board as early as the tail end of the first round, Neal doesn't seem to be a likely pick for the Bengals. They did attend Florida Pro Day. But, unless he falls to them in the third round, it would be hard to imagine that Neal would be the top player available on their draft board prior to round 3. However, if they did take him, the potential seems very high. Not only does his very physical and very violent style of play fit in so well in the AFC North, but he has the prototypical size and speed for an NFL safety.
His love for tackling has resulted in very strong special teams play, which generally appeals to the Bengals when they look for players in the draft. As violent as he loves to be on the field, his notably strong personal character keeps him out of trouble both on and off the field. He had one of the best seasons of any safety in the NCAA in 2015 and he was able to leave school early because of it. He seems to be NFL ready now, so whatever team does end up taking him will probably be rewarded greatly without having to wait too long for him to develop.
Strengths: One look at the guy makes you think he's more than cut out to be an NFL safety. At 6'0 and 211 pounds, he's got the kind of height that can help him keep balls out of the hands of receivers. He's also got the the sheer mass to make them pay for daring to think they should catch a ball anywhere near him. He loves using that size to his advantage, helping him to be an effective run stopper. He's the kind of player who can play every snap and not get tired. Is the offense having a bad day, leaving the defense on the field for most of the game? That's fine, he'll just roll with it and continue playing hard every time.
Weaknesses: As much as he doesn't let his hard-hitting style get him in trouble with the refs, he might end up getting in trouble with his body. If he continues playing with that kind of reckless abandon, his career in the NFL might be over sooner than he'd like. He also relies on his hard hitting ability a bit too much, causing him to lose track of his man in coverage and/or ending up with a missed tackle. He'll need to refine his coverage ability if he really wants to make an impact in the NFL.
Bottom Line: It takes a lot to scare an NFL player, but Neal is the kind of guy who can achieve it. He'll quickly build a reputation in the NFL for being a hard-hitting player, but his ability to keep his head on his shoulders won't cause him to be stuck with the "dirty" label. A minor hamstring issue might cause him to be slow off the line, so he's probably not suited to playing in the nickel. But, once he reaches top speed, he can compete with anyone. He's got a good chance of ending up as one of those players who gets drafted earlier than most expect, but makes up for it by becoming an early and effective starter.
Projected round: 1-2