Falcons linebacker Duke Riley doesn’t have time on his side. Setting aside the fact that, according to the NFL Players Association, the average NFL career only lasts 3.3 years, Riley also welcomed a new teammate this week: Stephone Anthony, former Saints first rounder turned NFL roster surfer. With that, Riley went from being Foye Oluokun’s backup to a man who might hit the unemployment line within weeks.
That’d be a shocking turn of events, given some of the hype surrounding Riley following his addition to the team in 2017. One year earlier, the Falcons struck gold in the second round of the draft with fellow LSU alumnus Deion Jones. Take Riley, a one-year starter at LSU, in the third round? Why not? What could go wrong? Famous last words.
Look, the problem with Duke probably isn’t fixable. It’s hard to suddenly become a capable, NFL level diagnoser of offensive schemes. He won’t suddenly stop taking the most awkward, nonsensical angles to the ball carrier. He’s fast and if he can get his hands on you, he’s a willing tackler. So he figures into the team’s plans inasmuch as he has something to offer on special teams. While Riley has some value as a backup linebacker at this point, there are lots of young men on the fringe of NFL rosters that can say the same.
So my question is this: what can Duke do now, if anything, to redeem himself? It’s frankly hard to imagine a scenario where everything just clicks for the young man, no matter how much we want to see him succeed. So is his departure a foregone conclusion at this point? Hardly. But he’d better keep his head on a swivel, notwithstanding his speed and athleticism.