Duke Riley entered the Atlanta Falcons organization with high expectations, as the Dirty Birds selected him in the third round of the 2017 NFL Draft. The former LSU Tigers linebacker experienced some tough stretches in his rookie year, but there was some optimism that he would start to figure things out in 2018. Needless to say, when Deion Jones went down with a foot injury in Week 1 against the Eagles, it became apparent Riley’s time to shine had finally come.
Unfortunately, Riley hasn’t been able to take advantage of the opportunity and his snap-counts have reflected that, dropping each week since Atlanta squared-off against New Orleans in Week 3.
Take a look at Riley’s snap-counts on defense since Week 3:
Atlanta vs New Orleans: 63
Atlanta vs Cincinnati: 55
Atlanta vs Pittsburgh: 51
Atlanta vs Tampa Bay: 28
Atlanta vs New York Giants: 26
Atlanta vs Washington: 22
Atlanta vs Cleveland: 19
As you can see, the Falcons coaching staff has slowly taken him out of the gameplan. In his absence, we’ve seen rookie linebacker Foyesade Oluokun thrive in his place. Unlike Riley, the former Yale standout has seen his playing time rise dramatically since Week 3, and Dan Quinn has noted him several times as a player who has taken advantage of all the injuries on defense.
Take a look at Oluokun’s snap-counts on defense since Week 3:
Atlanta vs New Orleans: 18
Atlanta vs Cincinnati: 22
Atlanta vs Pittsburgh: 33
Atlanta vs Tampa Bay: 40
Atlanta vs New York Giants: 38
Atlanta vs Washington: 50
Atlanta vs Cleveland: 45
As Deion Jones begins to make his return back onto the field, I don’t think there’s any argument over who’s going to be getting significant playing time behind the All-Pro middle linebacker. In the NFL, it’s all about making the most of the opportunities when presented, and unfortunately for Riley, he’s failed to do that for the second-straight year.
As for what the Falcons decide to do with Riley moving beyond 2018, that’s still something to be discussed. As we’ve learned, Atlanta doesn’t have a ton of depth at linebacker, but if they find valuable contributors in free agency or the 2019 NFL Draft, Riley’s time in a Falcons uniform could be coming to an end.