The Philadelphia Eagles made an unexpected move on Monday evening by trading Johnathan Cyprien and a 2020 seventh-round pick to the Atlanta Falcons in exchange for Duke Riley and a 2020 sixth-round pick.
In an effort to learn more about this Riley guy, I thought it’d benefit BGN readers to get a Falcons perspective on him. So, I reached out to the great Carter Breazeale of The Falcoholic for more insight. Here’s what he had to say.
1 - Can you sum up his stint with the Falcons? What were expectations of him as a third-round pick and why didn’t he live up to them?
You can sum up Duke Riley’s stint in Atlanta in one word: Disappointing. As a third-round selection in the 2017 NFL Draft, Riley was expected to immediately slot into the weakside linebacker spot alongside his college teammate, all-world middle linebacker Deion Jones. The hope was that Duke and Deion would give the Falcons one of the fastest and most dynamic linebacker tandems in the league, but his glaring lack of coverage instincts quickly rendered that prospect moot. He was routinely out of position or taking poor angles to the football, and his tackling technique once he tracked down a ball carrier was suspect, to boot.
His rookie season was cut short by a knee injury, and his 2018 campaign put all of his defensive deficiencies on full display. The combination of injury and ineffectiveness is often a recipe for a team moving on from a player, which is the case here.
2 - What are his strengths?
Duke Riley is an enigma. He has all of the physical traits to be a solid linebacker in the league, but it simply has not translated into success on the field. His primary strengths are in his athleticism and quickness—he posted a 4.58 40-yard-dash at the 2017 NFL Combine, which was second-best among linebackers. He’s a natural athlete but whether it’s due to ineffective coaching or the lofty expectations placed on him as a starting linebacker in Atlanta, he’s not been able to put it together at the NFL level quite yet.
3 - What are his weaknesses?
What are Duke Riley’s weaknesses? Well, I’d suggest you dust off your high school geometry book and read about basic polygons. Duke Riley runs his coverage routes like he’s tracking the lines of a drunkenly drawn rhombus. He was so poor in coverage last season that he was eventually supplanted by a sixth-round rookie in Foyesade Oluokun, which was the first bit of writing on the wall that his time in an Atlanta Falcons uniform could be coming to a close. He doesn’t appear to have very sound instincts on the football field, which could be a result of simply not trusting his own abilities and over-thinking, or just not being a very good coverage linebacker. Both possibilities are obviously problematic.
4 - Do you think he can at least be a solid special teamer for the Eagles? Is there any hope for him ever being a defensive contributor?
While Duke Riley did not provide much tangible valuable as a linebacker in Atlanta’s defense, his special teams chops kept him on the roster. That’s where he should make an immediate impact for the Eagles. As for defense, it remains to be seen. He has all of the physical tools, but so far they have not manifested in success. Whether that’s a Duke Riley issue or a coaching issue (which, if you’ve followed Atlanta’s defense, is certainly a possibility) remains to be seen. A fresh start should do him well.
5 - Anything else to know off the field?
There’s never been any question of Duke Riley’s work ethic or dedication; it was just very clear with Foyesade Oluokun’s emergence that it was not going to work out in Atlanta. His lack of progression and growth on defense made him the odd man out in Dan Quinn’s scheme, but he doesn’t bring any off the field issues to Philadelphia.
6 - How would you grade this trade for the Falcons?
I’d give it about a C for the Falcons. With Keanu Neal’s injury, Atlanta desperately needed a strong safety, and it seems that they’d prefer an established player like Johnathan Cyprien as opposed to in-house option Kemal Ishmael who seems more comfortable as a linebacker. There is some consternation that they could have brought in a guy like T.J. McDonald or George Iloka—both of whom they worked out last week—but maybe Cyprien’s availability gave them the actionable excuse to usher Duke Riley out the door. As for the picks? Not sweating a sixth-rounder, even though the Falcons have done excellent work in the late rounds of recent drafts.
Thanks again to Carter. Here’s some bonus content on Riley.
Some college highlights:
Spider graph via Mockdraftable. Riley is undersized but athletic.
Contract info via Over The Cap. Note that Kamu Grugier-Hill and Zach Brown are free agents after this season.
Tweets of note:
Interesting choice by Dallas Goedert to try a speed release vs Duke Riley in press.— Michael Kist (@MichaelKistNFL) September 8, 2018
Doesn't win initially, gets contacted w/out countering w/hands & get squeezed to the sideline.
Excellent job by Riley throughout the route to limit the throwing window. pic.twitter.com/HCnmbNhcv8
Duke Riley has struggled for the #Falcons, but hopes are his elite #RAS will pay off over time. pic.twitter.com/A2YtqObdt9— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) November 11, 2017
Duke Riley is an athletic, undersized LB, fits in at WLB best, can play MLB as well. Started 10 games last season, but had been relegated to special teams duty this season for the #Falcons.#Eagles were overloaded at safety and #Falcons could use depth after Neal injury.— Adam Caplan (@caplannfl) September 30, 2019
This is new #Eagles linebacker Duke Riley.— Zack Rosenblatt (@ZackBlatt) September 30, 2019
He’s strong. pic.twitter.com/drjUho7kn5
And last, but not least, check out these dance moves beginning at 0:06.
The Falcons went crazy in the locker room after the W— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) September 16, 2019
(via @AtlantaFalcons) pic.twitter.com/a4xqKrffjU