2017 NFL Draft Player Profiles: LSU LB Duke Riley

From now until the 2017 NFL Draft takes place, we hope to showcase as many prospects as possible and examine both their strengths and weaknesses. Most of these profiles will feature individuals that the Pittsburgh Steelers are likely to have an interest in, while a few others will be top-ranked players. If there is a player you would like us to analyze, let us know in the comments below.

#40 & #4 Duke Riley / LB / LSU 6’1 230 lbs

The Good:

– Quick instincts and reaction to play in front of him
– Excellent burst through the gap
– Sideline to sideline linebacker
– Able to cover downfield
– Good depth perception when dropping back
– Aggressive tackler
– Quick closing speed on blitzing assignments

The Bad:

– Lacks strength to consistently win leverage battles vs linemen
– Lean stature / undersized
– Could take better angles of pursuit
– Only one season as a starter


– 2016: 93 tackles, 9 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 1 INT
– Became a starter in senior year after spending his first three years as a reserve- special teams player
– Voted 2016 LSU MVP by teammates
– Invited to the 2017 Senior Bowl
– Instrumental part in LSU defense that allowed only 16 touchdowns all season, an FBS best

Tape Breakdown:

LSU’s Duke Riley only knows how to play football one way – fast. A tad undersized at 6’1 and 230 lbs, Riley more than makes up for his lack of size with his gifted speed and instinct, traits that Riley would put on full display at this year’s NFL Combine. After an imposing performance in which Riley posted a 4.58 40-yard dash time, the fastest out of any linebacker, the LSU inside linebacker has taken gigantic strides in increasing his draft stock.

Riley has the speed capable of being a sideline to sideline player and shows evidence of being able to beat running backs to the perimeter.

Starting from the top, Riley keeps his eyes on the running back in the backfield throughout the process and as soon as the Ole Miss back bounces off tackle, Riley is all over it. Quickly disengaging from his blocker, Riley chases down the back before more damage is done. An all around impressive play that many teams love to see out of an inside linebacking prospect.

Riley’s speed also comes in handy when it comes to the linebacker’s ability to trust his instincts and shoot the gap. Riley possesses the speed and football intelligence to correctly read a play, a major factor behind his 93 total tackles last season, 8th in the SEC.  Watch below how Riley reads the backfield and cuts the play off before it has a chance to develop.

Alabama’s Bo Scarbrough takes the handoff and ponders about bouncing outside before cutting back inside. The next sequence on the above play is not Scarbrough running downfield but the Alabama running back being carried backwards towards the line of scrimmage. The LSU player behind the stop is none other than Riley.

In case you demanded more, here is Riley’s instincts on display during LSU’s matchup against Auburn. Once again, Riley keeps his eyes in the backfield and fights off an offensive lineman and Auburn fullback to make the stop short of the sticks.

Riley’s instincts and football intelligence can also be extracted when the LSU linebacker is asked to drop back into coverage.  Watch below as Riley drops back into coverage, keeping his eye on Ole Miss’ Chad Kelly and drifts in the direction of the play.

After a horrible throw and decision from Kelly, Riley notches his first and only interception of his college career. Throughout Riley’s tape, a general pattern of the linebacker showing adequate zone depth perception and the ability to hang with crossing patterns over the middle.

And when Riley is not being asked to drop back into coverage, the linebacker brings brute force and closing speed in rushing the quarterback. Here he is de-cleating a Mississippi State offensive lineman.

Though Riley does not obtain a sack on the play, the brute force displayed by the 2016 LSU MVP was even more impressive. Riley may not have the strength or size to control blockers but he stills packs a very powerful punch.

Overall, the only aspect that limits Riley is his size and lack of raw strength, though I believe Riley has the qualities to work through his shortcomings. At the next level, Riley currently projects similarly as former Steelers linebacker Sean Spence but his ceiling could be Tampa Bay’s LaVonte David. Like Riley, David is projected as too small and undersized at the next level but proved those allegations to be foolish.

Riley seems better suited for a 4-3 WILB role, where his sideline to sideline speed could be better used. Look for Riley to be selected just before the mid-way mark of day three.

Projection: Day Three (Round 4)

Games Watched: vs Alabama, vs Ole Miss, vs Mississippi State, vs Auburn, vs Louisville

Previous 2017 NFL Draft Player Profiles
Deshaun WatsonHaason ReddickMarshon LattimoreCorey ClementTim Williams
Jourdan LewisTakkarist McKinleyBrad KaayaNathan PetermanO.J. Howard
Charles HarrisAlvin KamaraTyus BowserDavid NjokuDeMarcus Walker
Chidobe AwuzieDeShone KizerMarlon MackCameron SuttonZach Cunningham
Corey DavisCarl LawsonPatrick MahomesKareem HuntEvan Engram
Derek RiversRyan AndersonJoshua DobbsJordan LeggettSamaje Perine
Corn ElderBucky HodgesJames ConnerCooper KuppStanley Williams
Fred RossJamaal WilliamsGeorge KittleEjuan PriceChris Wormley
Jeremy McNicholsJoe MathisDerek BarnettAmba Etta-TawoGareon Conley
Taco Charlton Elijah McGuireRyan SwitzerTanoh KpassagnonTre’Davious White
Brian HillMatthew DayesDonnel PumphreyJosh ReynoldsNazair Jones
De’Veon SmithDavis WebbObi MelifonwuTJ WattJohn Ross
Jerod EvansVince BiegelJosh CarrawayJosh MaloneKevin King
Fadol BrownChris GodwinNate GerryJordan WillisStacy Coley
Zay JonesJimmie GilbertGlen AntoineTarell Basham

About the Author

Daniel Valente

Steelers fan from birth, spending majority of my free time looking up statistics. Had the honor of meeting Mike Vanderjagt shortly after his infamous missed field goal in the 2005 Divisional Round. Currently pursuing a Journalism degree. Follow me on Twitter @StatsGuyDaniel

  • Spencer Krick

    With his speed/size do you think he’s a hybrid LB/S candidate?

  • SoCal Steeler

    I’d be all over him in the 4th Rd. I think he could easily play MLB in our system. Not sure he makes it to our 4th Rd. pick though.

  • Daniel Valente

    I think he could definitely be a 3 down LB but not too sure or confident about hybrid role

  • SmellyHobo

    I wish they would take more LSU players on defense. Tomlin is down there for every pro day. Never seem to draft them.

  • Shane Mitchell

    Steelers interviewed him at the combine, he has to be high on our draft board given our need now at the position and the versatility he could offer in sub packages, his stock is definitely on the rise since the combine, we would be lucky to get him in the third round.

  • The Sun is Pro-Black

    Whatever happened to kendell beckwith?

  • Daniel Valente

    tore his ACL late last season but he expects to be ready for training camp. He said his knee is “about 75 percent” at the Combine.

  • The Sun is Pro-Black

    Aw man, he’s going to be a steal if he can return to form. I hope we take a chance on him.

  • TrappenWeisseGuy ;

    Throw him in the weight room for 6 months and let him loose. I was actually thinking of the pre-injury Spence comp too. Watching him run and mentally comparing him to Timmons current speed gave me a laugh.