Philadelphia Eagles: Duke Riley is a fantastic special teamer

(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images) /

With a brand-new need at linebacker, the Philadelphia Eagles’ decision to trade for Duke Riley could instantly elevate their special teams unit to new levels.

Trade alert, trade alert: after releasing L.J. Fort to make way for the return of slot cornerback Orlando Scandrick, the Philadelphia Eagles have traded Johnathan Cyprien and a 2020 seventh-round pick to the Atlanta Falcons for LSU linebacker product Duke Riley and a sixth-round pick.

Now I for one don’t quite know why the Falcons’ felt the need to give up draft compensation to acquire a player like Cyprien, as he’s been shaky-at-best on defense so far this season, but believe you me; this is certainly an upgrade.

While Riley may not be as athletically gifted or as productive on the field as some of his former Tigers teammates in the NFL, like ex-Falcons teammate Deion Jones, he’s still got experience playing in one of the best linebacking corps in the nation, and could hopefully provide upside for a team without a long-term answer at strongside linebacker.

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But despite Zach Brown‘s very mediocre start to the 2019 season, don’t expect Riley to come in and start from Day 1. No, this move was made to replace Fort’s spot on special teams with a player who just so happens to be a better natural linebacker.

That upgrade, not to mention a year and a half of Riley’s contract is surely worth a late pick swap – especially with the Eagles coming out with the better of the two picks.

Over the last three seasons, Riley has amassed 437 special teams snaps, including a team-high 59 (89 percent) over the first three games of his four-game 2019 tenure in Atlanta. Just for context, none of the Eagles’ special teams performers have accounted for that percentage of plays in 2019, with only one player, Nathan Gerry, averaging 20 or more special teams snaps a game.

Now granted, swapping Fort and Cyprus out for Riley – another special teams stalwart with 74 snaps on the season – is going to force Dave Fipp to shift around his formations the optimize the players at his disposal, but that’s a small price to pay for a 25-year-old linebacker who can do this (he’s dragging a car in the video).

Furthermore, while Riley has only logged one defensive snaps for the Falcons this season, he was initially drafted in the third round in large part because of his monster senior season, where he logged 93 tackles, 1.5 sacks, and an interception as the Tigers’ starting weakside linebacker.

Who knows, had Riley run a 4.4 instead of a 4.58, he may have joined Jones as a Day 2 prospect.

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So, while Duke Riley’s NFL career hasn’t gone exactly as planned, and will surely go down as a bust in the eyes of the Atlanta Falcons’ faithful, he provides some serious upside to a team like the Philadelphia Eagles with an immediate need on special teams and a deceptive need at linebacker long-term. And best of all, the Eagles actually moved up in the draft for the privilege of taking Riley off Dan Quinn‘s hands; Howie Roseman, you are a genius.