Duke Riley might have been a bit of a surprise pick in the third round, but as was the case with Takkarist McKinley a day earlier, most of the draft experts like the selection. Just maybe not as much as McKinley.
Here’s a sampling of grades for Riley. If we were in the habit of grading these picks as they happened, instead of giving one batch of grades at the end, we might give him a B. But we’re not, so we won’t.
Bleacher Report, Mike Tanier
Riley has a lot in common with Deion Jones, the Bayou Bengals linebacker he replaced who started in the Super Bowl for the Falcons. So give them credit for trying to collect the full set.
Both Jones and Riley are undersized, rangy defenders who operate best in space. Jones quickly accelerated from project to budding superstar last season, which is a heck of a leap to expect from Riley.
My biggest concern with Riley is that he just gets eaten alive by blockers who reach him. He’ll have to be exceptional in coverage to see the field if he can’t take on blocks; as a one-year college starter, I’m not sure he’s there yet.
CBS Sports, Pete Prisco
Riley has speed, which you know the Falcons love, so he fits. Adding more speed makes sense. They are fast.
The Deion Jones pick last year worked out like gangbusters, so the Falcons went back to the well to pick up Jones’s former teammate—a player not entirely dissimilar from Jones himself. Nothing wrong with adding depth at linebacker, but Atlanta had much more of a hole at guard.
Duke Riley doesn't have much experience as a 1-year starter at LSU, but he was a big-time play-maker this past season. He's very athletic, which the Falcons love. Atlanta needed a linebacker, so this pick makes sense. Riley fits the range as a solid third-round prospect.
ESPN, Kevin Weidl
Coach Dan Quinn continues to infuse speed on the defensive side of the ball. Similar to Deion Jones (2016, second round), Riley is another space linebacker who should help provide the Falcons with more range and versatility at the second level of their defense.