Here’s a writer’s secret for you: It can be very hard to write an objective scouting report on your draft crush. Believe me, I will do my best, though. You may be wondering why Duke Riley is my draft crush. After all, he’s a fairly under-the-radar weakside linebacker that probably won’t get drafted until Day-2. But I have a soft spot for linebackers who can cover well and Riley is just about as good in coverage as any linebacker in this draft. Enough about me, on to Riley.
The former Tiger is headed for the NFL after completing his senior season at LSU, and checks into the draft in at 6’0”, 232Lbs. In a stacked defensive class, Riley has gotten lost in the shuffle, but I’m here to tell you why you should keep a steady eye on him in your IDP drafts, and why you want this kid on your team. So let’s break down Riley’s strengths and weaknesses, IDP and NFL draft stock.
If there is one thing that will keep you on the field for all three downs for an NFL team, it’s the ability to cover well. Nickel and Dime coverages are becoming more and more popular so when teams put in more defensive backs and pull out more linebackers, those lacking in coverage skills are often the ones running back to the sidelines. Riley’s combination of swift hips and quickness are rare to the linebacker position, and you can tell by watching him that he has a great football sense in coverage. This Tweet is an example of him covering a wheel route where a lot of linebackers will get sucked into the “flat” route too much and be unable to catch up.
Weakside linebackers in today’s NFL have to be athletic freaks because of the versatility the position demands. Covering tight ends, covering running backs, covering the flat in cover 3, blitzing… you name it, weakside linebackers do it. Thankfully, Riley checks out really well here. The kid is rangy in coverage and uses his quickness in getting to the ball carrier. Defensive coordinators will love having the athleticism and thus versatility that Riley will bring.
Run Defense / Smarts:
I would put these two in separate categories, but it’s his smarts that make him such a great run defender. I don’t mean to go on and on about weakside linebacker responsibilities, but being able to make open field tackles is a must and Riley has all the tools to be able to do so. His instincts are off the charts, he knows how to position himself and where to position himself, and has the quickness to get there.
Dealing with Blocks:
As much as I like him, Riley is far from a perfect prospect. The biggest thing he needs to work on is how he deals with blockers. Too often, if a blocker can get to the second level and get a hand on him, he get’s effectively taken out of the play. He needs to be better able to shed blocks and or hold his ground better. Improving body leverage, or hand positioning are simple ways to get better here.
I strongly hinted in the “dealing with blocks” category that some added strength could greatly benefit Riley, now I am coming out and more bluntly saying it. If he could add a little muscle in the weight room, and bulk up a little bit, this would really help him round-out his game as a whole.
Duke Riley is one of the better 4-3 OLBs in this draft, and as I have alluded to many times, should fit best at the weakside linebacker position. His athleticism, coverage skills, and football sense are the skills that he hangs his hat on, while strength and dealing with blocks are places where I would like to see improvement. To answer the questions from the intro, Riley is a second-round pick in my book but is more likely to fall to Round-3 than slip into the first-round. As for IDP rankings, I have him ranked #4 among 4-3 OLB’s (behind Zach Cunningham, Haason Reddick, and Jarrad Davis). Once those three are gone, you should feel comfortable taking a chance on Riley. Below are two examples of Riley in action:
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