The New York Giants drafted interior defensive lineman Jordon Riley out of Oregon with the 245th pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. This selection marks the second consecutive season where the Giants spent a Day 3 pick on an older - very large - interior defensive lineman.
Riley had four collegiate stops on his journey. He played high school football at Riverside in North Carolina. He initially attended the University of North Carolina in 2017, where he played in five games as a true freshman and recorded six tackles; he redshirt in 2018. He then transferred to Garden City (Kan.) Community College for the 2019 season, where he had 26 tackles, two sacks, and 3.5 tackles for a loss in 9 games. After one season at Garden City, he entered the transfer portal to play in the Big-10.
Riley was a three-star recruit in 2020 as the 14th strong-side defensive end. He committed to Nebraska in December 2019 and reportedly cut his weight from 335 pounds to 305 pounds. The 2020 season was shortened due to COVID-19, and Riley dealt with a knee injury.
He had one pressure and one tackle in 2020. He only played 63 defensive snaps in 2021 but was Academic-All-Big-Ten. His lack of usage at Nebraska prompted a transfer to Oregon for the 2022 season, where he bulked back up to 335 pounds for Oregon’s defense.
Riley operated as a base nose and one-shade in Dan Lanning’s 3-4 defense. When Lanning wasn’t utilizing an ODD front, Riley kicked over to 2i, 2, and 3-technique. Here is Riley’s Relative Athletic Score:
Jordon Riley was drafted with pick 243 of round 7 in the 2023 draft class. He scored a 2.80 #RAS out of a possible 10.00. This ranked 1168 out of 1620 DT from 1987 to 2023. https://t.co/J7bfnu56vP pic.twitter.com/E0ViLmnai4— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) April 29, 2023
Riley has elite size for the position, but his athletic testing leaves something to be desired. Still, Riley’s job is to absorb blocks to allow linebackers to flow - which he did well at Oregon - and to leverage his run responsibilities. Riley offers little as a pass rusher. Here are Riley and D.J. Davidson’s RAS scores next to each other:
Both Riley and Davidson - if healthy - should compete for a back-end roster spot in, what is now, a deep 2023 interior defensive line room. Let’s check out Riley’s tape.
Jordon Riley is No. 91
Reasons to buy in
When Riley is utilizing the correct technique - keeping his hips low, tight elbows/hands, quick to initiate contact, fit hands inside, etc. - he executes his run assignments well. He displays two down upside as a run defender when he does that, but that’s not consistent.
He engages the left guard from the nose tackle spot and maintains a presence in the A-Gap. He quickly shot his hands and keeps his feet active while keying the running back’s path. The guard starts to get underneath him, but Riley breaks away and works to the running back to collect an assisted tackle.
Jordon Riley fighting through the play-side shoulder of the center to tackle the RB for a modest gain.— Nick Falato (@nickfalato) April 29, 2023
Much like DJ Davidson last year...this guy is large. pic.twitter.com/HFTDjDtyCn
Riley battles through the reach block of the Oregon State center to get to the play side and make the tackle. I wouldn’t say Riley is a defensive tackle with range; however, he anticipated the zone block and beat the center to his landmark to stress his outside shoulder until Riley was able to make the tackle.
Nose at snap
Late in the North Carolina game, Riley shifts to nose right before the snap and slants to the play side A-Gap. Both Riley and the center are a bit high, but Riley avoids the trash around his feet, locks the center out, locates the running back, and leverages his gap by discarding the center for a tackle.
Riley attempts to engage the center but is surprised by the right guard who blocks down as the left guard pulls; this forces Riley to miss his punch and get jolted backward, but I love the resistance of Riley to recollect himself and find the ball carrier. After he was jolted, Riley used his hands to find the crevice between the two blockers and then separated and made the tackle at the line of scrimmage.
Riley absorbs the combo block showing good lower-body flexion upon contact to keep himself low, initially. The power of the combo forces Riley’s center of gravity to rise, but the defensive lineman uses his inside hand to pry himself between the two blockers as he gets his shoulder horizontal and comes to balance in the backfield. Very good upper body strength and play.
Riley wasn’t always tasked to penetrate in Lanning’s defense, but he uses his hands well while keeping his hips low to shed the climbing guard and get to the center’s outside shoulder. He then located the running back and closed width quickly to assist in the tackle. I appreciate how he avoided the clean contact from the play side guard to position himself well against the center.
I love how Riley splits this double team to make the tackle. This is his potential; he’s very low into contact, his hands/elbows are tight, he angles away from the inside blocker, and he separates in a timely manner from the guard with impressive push to shed. He then engulfs the running back like a Venus Fly Trap devouring an insect.
This play may look like a negative; Riley gets pushed off the line of scrimmage and a hole is presented, but Riley, to some degree executes his assignment. Lanning is running his base 3-4 defense with Riley as the nose tackle versus a spread look with only five defenders in the box. This is an advantageous situation to run the football.
However, Riley does a great job holding the center and occupying the guard to allow linebacker Jeffrey Bassa (No. 33) to fill and stop the run in the red zone. Not a lot of NFL teams run traditional two-gap defenses anymore, but plenty of teams use techniques that rely on defenders to play a gap-and-a-half.
Although Riley appears controlled on the play, the fact that he occupies two blockers allowed the defense as a whole to win the rep.
Reasons for concerns
When he executes the correct technique, Riley is a difficult defender to move off his spot. We saw very impressive plays handling a few different types of responsibilities above, but it’s not always perfect. Riley punches high and is driven well out of his gap against Oregon State above; judging by the reaction of other defenders, Riley’s responsibility appeared to be the gap the running back exploded through.
The offense runs stretch zone, and Riley attempts to penetrate the back side A-Gap. With his backside hand, the center impedes Riley’s path which puts the big Duck off-balance and allowed the guard to easily control and eliminate Riley from the play.
While at Nebraska, Riley struggled in short-yardage situations. His frame worked against him, as interior offensive linemen were able to win the leverage battle and own the point of attack:
Riley doesn’t offer much as a pass-rusher. He had ten career pressures (excluding his time at Garden City). His one sack was a coverage sack that happened five seconds into the play. Still, here are some of his pressures from his time at Oregon, and his one 2021 pressure from Nebraska.
Riley’s pass-rushing moves lack suddenness, but they’re heavy. Flashed a club-swim in the top two plays and a club-rip in the Nebraska play. These were few and far between but welcomed when they were employed.
Not only did Schoen select players like Riley and Davidson, but he also chose Marcus McKethan on Day 3 of last year’s draft. I like how Schoen bets on traits and subscribes to George Young’s planet theory in this area of the draft. Schoen said this in his post-draft press conference:
“Big body guy. It’s hard to find these guys. When you get into the seventh round, you are looking for guys that maybe it will be hard to get at different areas. And another guy we spent time with, big run stopper in there, 6-foot-5, 330.
“You walk out to practice, and there’s this 6-5, 330-pound guy, who piques your interest right there. Again, some of these guys in different schemes may not have the production, the tackles, the sacks. But for what Wink looks for in terms of size, length, knock-back — he possesses those traits.”
Size, length, and heavy hands - those are all traits possessed by Riley, who can fill a specific role in Martindale’s defense if he earns a roster spot. Riley showed the ability to anchor against double teams and occupy blockers to allow teammates to make tackles. Here’s my synopsis of Riley’s play from my scouting report:
Jordon Riley is a massive-sized interior defensive lineman who subscribes to the planet theory. His college football career was unconventional, as he played within four programs, and his first year of college football was in 2017. When he plays with good technique, he is a sure-tackling run defender who could earn a two-down role; however, his consistency from one snap to another can improve.
He doesn’t offer much as a pass-rusher, nor is he very explosive, but he can absorb blocks in the run game to allow linebackers to scrape and flow to the football. Riley is a developmental back-end roster player who may be destined for the practice squad early but will have the privilege of working under the tutelage of Andre Patterson - one of the best defensive line coaches in the NFL.
Since Davidson is fresh in my mind from last year’s draft. I think it’s fair to say that Riley is a better run defender than Davidson. I think the former Duck anchors better and isn’t moved around as much. However, Davidson is a bit quicker with a little bit more upside as a pass-rusher.
There could be an unrealized upside with Riley as a run defender, whose collegiate career was unstable. Maybe in a consistent environment, his development can be accelerated. If Davidson is healthy, that training camp battle should be fun to watch.