Grading the Falcons draft selections: Duke Riley

Round 3, Pick 75: Duke Riley

Atlanta opted to trade their second-round pick and received three picks in return from the Bills. Buffalo gave up a third and two fifth-round picks for the rights to Dion Dawkins. With the first of those picks, Atlanta went back to a familiar place to select another talented linebacker. Duke Riley out of LSU was selected with the 75th overall pick in the draft. The Falcons also selected linebacker Deion Jones out of LSU in the second-round of last year’s draft. Like Jones, Duke Riley spent his first three seasons as a special teams player but had the opportunity to start his senior season. Riley took advantage, leading the Tigers defense in tackles with 93.

Once again, Riley is the prototypical player Dan Quinn has been trying to acquire since coming to Atlanta. This linebacker class was deep and Riley dropping into the third-round could be a major steal. He only has one year of starting experience at LSU and was not highly recruited out of high-school, but neither was Deion Jones. These two are cut from the same cloth: undersized linebackers that make up for it with their speed and physicality.

As far as his lone year of starting experience, his progression in that first year as a starter could make that a plus. LSU had one of the most ferocious defenses in the country and Riley was a key cog in the middle, especially with all-American linebacker Kendall Beckwith dealing with injuries at times. He was a pleasant surprise for the Tigers defense, and showed incredible instincts for a first-year starter. There is tremendous potential to build off that season, and under the guidance of Quinn, Riley should be able to reach that potential.

Riley was a special teams standout prior to becoming a starter. He will have an immediate impact in that area, but Dan Quinn says he expects Riley to eventually be at linebacker. As we saw last year, Quinn is not afraid to throw rookies into the trenches. Is it unreasonable to think Duke Riley will be starting next to his former LSU teammate next year? No, because Quinn sees the same things he saw in Deion Jones last season. A smooth, fast and physical linebacker with a nose for the football. The linebacker spots are up for grabs, and Riley has a serious shot at starting right next to Jones by week 1. This is ironic, considering these two players never started a game together over their three years together at LSU.

Grade: A

Quinn has shown an eye for grabbing undervalued defensive talent in the later rounds of the draft. Are we sure he did not play a major role in drafting those late-round defensive talents in Seattle? Either way, Quinn seems to have brought it to Atlanta, and Riley fits this mold. As far as value, the Falcons were able to get this pick and two fifth-round picks for their second-round pick. Riley’s potential is sky-high for a third-round pick and he probably could not have gone to a better place. Duke Riley is going to love playing for Dan Quinn. Quinn is going to love Duke Riley. This is a match made in heaven, and Atlanta found a future starting linebacker in the third-round.

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