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Giants’ rookie DT Jordon Riley: ‘I know I belong here’

Seventh-round pick beginning to show why Giants took a chance on the run-stuffing nose tackle

NFL: AUG 01 New York Giants Training Camp
Jordon Riley
Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

There were some who were caught off guard when the New York Giants selected defensive tackle Jordon Riley in Round 7 of the 2023 NFL Draft, making him the 243rd overall selection.

The NFL Mock Draft Database listed Riley as the 567th overall prospect, and 57th-ranked defensive tackle.

So, what made the Giants draft Riley?

“He’s got some gifts that you can’t give him as a coach. You know, he’s six five, he’s 325 pounds. He is a big strong man,” defensive line coach Andre Patterson said in the spring. “The gifts he has, a coach can’t give you that.”

Patterson, though, added that “he’s got some things that technique wise we’ve gotta work with him on to improve.”

Over the past week or so, the 25-year-old has begun to show what attracted the Giants to him.

Riley reportedly has a pair of good practices last week against the Detroit Lions. He followed that up by playing well in Friday’s preseason opener against the Lions. He had just one tackle in 43 snaps, but handled double-team blocks and held the point of attack allowing others to make plays — which is, basically, the job of a nose tackle.

Giants head coach Brian Daboll said that Riley has “made steady improvement” since the spring.

“He’s got a good room to be in for a young player with the veterans Dex, Leo, and Nacho and A’Shawn (Robinson). They are really invaluable in there for young players,” Daboll said. And then (defensive line coach) Dre (Andre Patterson) and (assistant defensive line coach Bryan) Cox do a good job.

“He’s come along slowly, he’s improved every day since he has been here. Thought he showed out well for himself, played a lot of snaps. He’s in a good spot relative to the room he’s in, the people that he can learn under. He’s got the right mindset.

Riley had a nomadic college career. He cycled through North Carolina, Garden City Community College, Nebraska and finally Oregon. It’s no wonder NFL teams may have overlooked him.

“Everybody had different journeys. I had certain situations that I had to get through. But it’s all part of the journey,” Riley said on Monday in the Quest Diagnostics Training Center practice bubble. “What I learned most is just battling adversity no matter where you’re at or where you end up just always pushing through. You know the end goal. So, never looking back, always trying to move forward.”

The Giants, seeking to upgrade their run defense and their defensive line depth, took a chance on Riley’s size and strength. Early indications are it might pay off.

“I know I belong here. I’m here for a reason or they wouldn’t draft me,” Riley said. “I can’t control what other people say about me. All I can do is, they gave me a job, they put it on the line to draft me. All I can do is come here every day and get better and show them why they drafted me.”

Both Daboll and Patterson referenced Riley’s physical gifts, which is interesting considering Riley’s poor pre-draft testing numbers.

Bend, which Daboll talked about, is not a characteristic often discussed with a nose tackle. We usually hear that about edge defenders in reference to an ability to bend around the end, shortening the arc to the quarterback while pass rushing.

What can bend do for a nose tackle?

“When you get those tough double hard doubles (double teams) you’ve got to be able to be low,” Riley said. “You can’t really have high pad level or they just knock you out (of) the club. So, being able to bend and sink your hips and fight pressure with pressure, I think that’s important. Especially being at nose. You don’t want to be a stiff guy in there taking a hard double (from) 330-pound offensive linemen. I think it’s important to be able to bend, to be able to fight that pressure.”

Riley could end up with a role backing up Dexter Lawrence at nose tackle for the Giants. That’s grunt work, handling double teams and playing the run. It’s work Riley loves.

“I just love playing the run. I love stopping the run and doing the dirty work,” Riley said.

With so many veteran mentors in the defensive line room, as well as long-time highly-regarded defensive line coach Andre Patterson, Riley has an opportunity to soak up a wealth of knowledge.

“He’s really just improved day-by-day,” Daboll said. “Come into this league, it’s all new and then you are inside, he’s big, he’s long, he can bend. He’s learning stuff every day from Dre and Cox but then I’d say those four veterans they are really good teammates and they take those guys underneath their wings and talk to them a lot and he’s done a good job of listening and just trying to get better each day.”

Riley said that both players and coaches keep emphasizing the important of technique.

“It’s the NFL, so a lot of guys are just as strong, just as big, just as talented,” Riley said. “So, the technique really is what’s gonna separate you. You don’t have to be the most talented, you don’t have to be the fastest, but strong technique can take you a long way.”

Riley knows he has improved from spring practices.

“It’s just the game starting to slow down,” Riley said. “I’m just taking the coaching and trying to do the technique, even if I’m failing at it I’m still practicing the technique. I think that’s what helps me moving forward. Try to get better at one thing each day, and eventually it’s all going to come together.”