Duke Riley

Why Eagles think they can get more out of recently acquired Duke Riley

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Why Eagles think they can get more out of recently acquired Duke Riley

After starting 16 games his first two seasons with the Falcons, Duke Riley hadn’t played a single defensive snap in 2019. But don’t try telling the new Eagles linebacker he lost his job in Atlanta.

“It wasn’t like my role was reduced,” Riley said Wednesday, his first time meeting with the media since he was traded to the Eagles for safety Johnathan Cyprien and a swap of late-round draft choices. “I just had some setbacks.”

A third-round pick in 2017, Riley’s tenure with the Falcons was viewed as a disappointment. Though he excelled on special teams, missed tackles were an issue, so much so it reportedly led to his being replaced in the starting lineup last December.

Is that the whole story? Riley thinks not, and admits there was “shock” initially upon learning he was dealt.

“I had two surgeries my first two years, so I guess that’s one of the reasons why,” said Riley, who’s dealt with some injuries — most notably, a torn meniscus during his rookie season. “And I made some plays that I wish I wouldn’t have made, which we all do. It’s the NFL, no one’s perfect.”

There are reasons to believe the Eagles hope to get more out of Riley. The club showed legitimate interest prior to the 2017 draft, hosting the LSU product on one of their top-30 visits. Apparently, there was buzz around the NovaCare Complex before the Eagles completed the trade for Riley, too.

“The guys said they’ve been talking about me here,” said Riley. “I guess they wanted me, so it’s good to be wanted.”

Riley, 25, measures 6-foot-1, 218 pounds with sub-4.6 speed. He’s also under contract through 2020, so the Eagles have the rest of this year and all of next to kick the tires, perhaps even coach him up.

“It was good for me to have a fresh start,” said Riley, who recorded 93 tackles and appeared in two playoff games with the Falcons. “It’s like coming into the NFL again, but I’m better because I know what to expect. I know what to do. I know how hard I work. I know what I bring. I know the energy I have.

“I know the type of guy that I am, so I think it will all work out for me.”

To begin with, Riley is behind Nigel Bradham, Kamu Grugier-Hill, Zach Brown and Nathan Gerry on the Eagles’ depth chart and will likely contribute exclusively on special teams. He’s basically taking the place of L.J. Fort, who was released last week.

Riley embraces that role, which is how he was able to hang on to a roster spot in Atlanta despite losing his grip on a starting job.

“Special teams is a good place to get ready for a game,” said Riley. “It’s a good place to learn and take shots. It’s a good place to work technique in your blocking or tackling, so I take special teams as serious as anything.”

Beyond this season, Grugier-Hill and Brown are currently slated to become free agents, so it’s not unfathomable Riley could play his way into a bigger part for the Eagles down the line. It’s a flyer entirely worth taking on a talented athlete who will bolster their special teams immediately — and maybe just needs to overcome a few “setbacks” to find success in the NFL.

Eagles trade Johnathan Cyprien to Falcons, acquire Duke Riley

Eagles trade Johnathan Cyprien to Falcons, acquire Duke Riley

The Eagles on Monday acquired 25-year-old linebacker Duke Riley, a third-round pick just two years ago, for veteran safety Johnathan Cyprien.

The Eagles acquired Riley and a 2020 sixth-round pick in exchange for Cyprien and a 2020 seventh-round pick.

Riley will likely have a role only on special teams. He's played just one snap on defense this year, but he did contribute 78 snaps on special teams in the Falcons' first four games. 

By cutting ties with L.J. Fort on Friday to make room on the 53-man roster for Orlando Scandrick and now Cyprien, the Eagles lost two of their four-leading special teams players in terms of snaps played. Fort played 75 and Cyprien 74. 

Cyprien, who the Eagles signed on Aug. 2, is a seven-year veteran with 70 career starts with the Jaguars and Titans, but he had played one 15 defensive snaps in four games with the Eagles.

Riley started 16 games in 2017 and 2018 but had played only one defensive snap this year, in the Falcons’ season-opening loss to the Vikings. 

The former third-round pick out of LSU was considered a huge disappointment with the Falcons after they made him the 10th linebacker taken in the 2017 draft.

So this is essentially a case of “We’ll trade you our guy who can’t play for your guy who can’t play.” 

But the Eagles did move up a round in next year’s draft with the transaction.

The Eagles are now back to six linebackers, with Nigel Bradham, Zach Brown, Kamu Grugier-Hill, Nate Gerry, T.J. Edwards and Riley.

The Eagles take over Riley’s rookie contract, which pays him $726,500 this year and $820,000 next year. Cyprien is earning $805,000.



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