New Acquisition Analysis: Duke Riley

The Dolphins announced today the signing of linebacker Duke Riley. Selected in the third round of the 2017 NFL Draft by the Atlanta Falcons, Riley was traded in 2019 to the Eagles, where he played the last two seasons. He's played in 57 games with 24 starts and made 132 career tackles.

The Film

Riley ran the second-fastest 40-yard dash and the third-quickest 3-cone time among linebackers at the 2017 NFL Scouting Combine. That speed translates to the field and is most evident on outside runs, screen plays and on special teams.

Pairing his athleticism and speed makes Riley a quality sub-package option against mobile quarterbacks. He's adept at finding his spot in coverage, feeling the concept of the play and closing down when the QB looks to escape contain.

The Fit

Stacking Riley against the rest of the linebacker corps highlights differences in usage. Whereas Jerome Baker and Benardrick McKinney have a combined 547 pass-rushing snaps since 2018 (Baker's rookie season), Riley has only 56 rush snaps over that span as he's most often utilized in coverage.

The Stats (Courtesy of Pro Football Focus)

Duke Riley played all over the Eagles defense in 2020, but his role was clearly defined as a pass-coverage linebacker. In his four-year career, Riley's played 623 of his 679 pass defense snaps in coverage. He allowed a career-low 8.6 yards per reception last season playing 254 coverage snaps, the most of his career. He also set a personal best with 18 runs stops in 2020 (tackles within two yards of the line of scrimmage.

Duke Riley 2020 Snap Counts

Table inside Article
Position Snaps
On-Ball (DL) 53
Off-Ball (LB) 476
Slot 4
Wide 2
Special Teams 253

Riley's primary responsibilities have been pass coverage and special teams. His athleticism jumps off the page with a Relative Athletic Score was 8.06 (out of 10) and a 4.58 40-yard dash time on his resume. Playing on this Dolphins defense requires versatility, but the speed/coverage profile of Riley adds another element to the second level of the unit.

Linebacker Sam Eguavoen played similar roles on this Dolphins defense the last two years, though he's been a more frequent blitzer, as did other linebackers like Kamu Grugier-Hill.

The Conclusion

The Dolphins defense called upon linebackers for 2,899 snaps in 2020. It's a position that can never have enough depth with versatile skillsets and the added bonus of special teams prowess. Riley has worn multiple hats in his previous stops and earned the distinction of special teams captain in Philadelphia in the same year that he was acquired mid-season via a trade from Atlanta.

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