Round 5: Jacksonville State SS Siran Neal – 6-0, 200 – 4.56– Senior
Previous pick: South Carolina State LB Darius Leonard
With Neal, Tampa Bay adds a strong safety to the mix to compete with Chris Conte for the right to start next to free safety Justin Evans. Neal has played all over the back seven for the Gamecocks, playing strong safety and nickel cornerback his first two years, then linebacker in 2016 before moving to cornerback last season as a senior.
Neal is a very good athlete with 4.56 speed in the 40-yard dash (Evans ran 4.6), a 4.28 time in the 20-yard short shuttle, a 7-second time in the three-cone drill, and had one of the highest vertical leaps at the NFL Scouting Combine at 40.5 inches. Neal got an invite to the Senior Bowl where he fared well in practice and in the game, where he logged three tackles before missing the second half with an injury.
Despite playing at a small school, Neal has faced big-time talent before and played well in games at Michigan State as a freshman, and at LSU and against Carson Wentz and North Dakota State in the FCS Championship Game in 2016, and Georgia Tech last year. Neal’s transition to the NFL should go smoothly, and he’ll be an instant impact player in coverage on special teams.
Neal’s Jacksonville State Career Defensive Stats
2017: 39 tackles, 11 PBUs, 1 INT, 1 FF
2016: 80 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss, 4 PBUs, 1 INT, 1 sack
2015: 40 tackles, 3 PBUs, 1 INT, 1 FF
2014: 32 tackles, 3 PBUs
Neal is a big hitter and plays better closer to the line of scrimmage, although his experience and coverage ability at cornerback allows him to have the range to play free safety, too. Defensive coordinator Mike Smith likes to move his safeties around to help disguise the defensive play call, placing Conte as the single high free safety and moving Evans down to strong safety on one play, and then switching those roles on the next. Neal has the athletic traits and capability to do that.
Neal takes good angles as a tackler and arrives at ballcarriers with a fury. He smack you, and plays with a good deal of confidence. That’s the type of attitude that Evans plays with and Tampa Bay needs more of that in its secondary. Combine that with his ability to stick to receivers like glue and the Bucs may be able to find a starting-caliber safety on Day 3 like they’ve done before with the likes of Dexter Jackson, Jermaine Phillips and Tanard Jackson over the years.