The Falcons defense has struggled all season, seemingly dealing with new injuries every single week. Other than injuries to countless Pro Bowl players, the team’s biggest problem may be Duke Riley. Riley was drafted as a raw project out of LSU, and his pro development has been slow.
Riley had perhaps the best game of his career two weeks ago against the Cincinnati Bengals, but he has otherwise been in a tight race with Jordan Richards for worst player on the defense. He’s slow to diagnose plays and has an uncanny ability to immediately get out of position and into the worst angle imaginable.
You frequently see similar plays deep into preseason games, not from NFL starters. Speaking of preseason, we covered how rookie Foye Oluokun looked great in preseason, and almost certainly outplayed Riley. Deion Jones was still healthy, but it made sense to wonder if Oluokun could replace Riley soon.
Based on snap counts, that finally happened in Sunday’s win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Jordan Richards played 99 percent of the defensive snaps, so I can’t give Quinn too much credit here. However, Oluokun played 61 percent of the defensive snaps, and about half of the special teams snaps. Riley played 42 percent of the snaps and only 21 percent of the special teams snaps.
It might be based on matchups, but Oluokun has clearly earned a bigger role in the defense. He played 12 more snaps, and kept it together enough to warrant even more snaps. Riley has still been inconsistent and typically bad.
Don’t expect Riley to get phased out of the defense entirely. Quinn needs to walk the line between developing Riley for the future and winning this year. Riley should get a small handful of snaps while the staff gets him up to NFL speed.