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Film breakdown: Jordon Riley, how high is his ceiling?

Riley has shown potential in recent games

NFL: New York Giants at New Orleans Saints Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Giants selected 6-foot-5, 325-pound, interior defensive linemen Jordon Riley out of Oregon with 243rd pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. The seventh-round pick represented four schools through his collegiate career (Oregon, Nebraska, Garden City Community College, and North Carolina), and was about to turn 25 years old come draft day.

Still, subscribing to George Young’s planet theory, Joe Schoen recognized the potential Riley possessed.

“Big body guy. It’s hard to find these guys,” said Joe Schoen after the draft. “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, knockback — he possesses those traits.”

The traits specifically mentioned by Schoen - size, length, and knockback - have flashed in his limited snap share during his rookie season. More snaps for Riley inevitably was a byproduct of the Giants shipping Leonard Williams to Seattle.

Riley has played 116 defensive snaps in 2023, and 51 of those came in the last two weeks. 35 of those snaps were against the Eagles in Week 16. After that game, defensive line coach Andre Patterson told Riley that he “had a good game against one of the best centers in the league (Jason Kelce).”

Jordon Riley is No. 95

The play above may have been Riley’s best play against Kelce - a win based on size, length advantage, and pushback, with a precocious use of his inside hand to work through Kelce’s inside shoulder to the play side.

Riley completely separated from the future Hall of Famer and finished the tackle on Kenneth Gainwell (14). Plays like this earn you snaps and massive recognition.

Patterson joked with Riley and stated that he had to knock Riley off his pedestal after the compliment, but followed up with “you can be satisfied with everyone patting you on the back, or it can make you hungrier - it depends on what you want to do with it.”

It’s safe to say Riley remained famished against the Rams in Week 17. He recorded two tackles and had his second highest Pro Football Focus grade of the season. Is he perfect? No, not close. He still struggles, but the flashes are bright and he possesses three things that can’t be taught - size, length, and knockback.

Combine those three traits with smart, tough, and dependable, along with experience, and the Giants may be cooking to satiate the big-man with more opportunities to thrive.

And that’s exactly what Riley is receiving, now that the season is almost over and Dexter Lawrence isn’t playing an unreasonable amount of snaps as he did last season. Riley is now occupying the second-team nose spot for the Giants, and he spells Lawrence.

Wink Martindale employed a 3-3-5 defense on 66% of snaps against the Rams. His plan was to create an aggressive five-man TITE front to slow down Sean McVay’s explosive rushing attack led by Kyren Williams, while also disguising his pressure to manipulate the Rams’ protection with a crowded line of scrimmage.

Riley was the nose in this situation and played a role in allowing Bobby Okereke (58) to fast-flow toward the football with a gap-and-a-half type of style up front.

Martindale blitzed the Rams on 74% of plays and they weren’t all oriented to defeat the pass. The savvy defensive coordinator blitzed Xavier McKinney (29) through the C-Gap into Puka Nukua (17), while slanting the three IDL a gap over from their original alignment.

Riley shot his hands inside, dropped his weight low, positioned his hips into the backside A-Gap, stacked the center, and quickly closed the frontside A-Gap to make the tackle, all while allowing Okereke to over-play the frontside behind the double-team of A’Shawn Robinson (91).

From a technical and strength standpoint, this is a textbook play by Riley at the point of attack. Active feet, active eyes, maximized length, and closed the gap on the cut once Kyren Williams (23) saw Okereke shade to scrape over top of Robinson.

Riley filled the A-Gap away from where the center stepped on the backside of the run toward Okereke, who was the only second level defender in the middle of the field. Riley removed the backside A-Gap, and gave Williams the impression that the frontside was advantageous behind the double-team that was climbing to Okereke.

However, the seventh-round pick closed the frontside A-Gap once Williams declared, which assisted Okereke, who wasn’t in an optimal position. Plays like the one above is one way for a TITE front team to steal gaps back from an offense.

Riley showed resilience on the play above, as the rookie fought through the block and helped to slow down Williams. He was moved outside on the double team, but did show exceptional strength and will to get back to the play-side.

The flashes against the run suggest that Riley could have a significant role behind Dexter Lawrence in 2024. Still, he must be more consistent in handling double-teams. He has played well over the last few weeks, but there are snaps where he failed to anchor and execute his assignment, like these few below:

Pass rushing

Jordon Riley had one sack in college. He has limited pass rushing upside, but he isn’t easy to anchor against for opposing offensive linemen. Here are a few snaps of his bull-rush that is long-developing, but persistent.

Final thoughts

Riley’s competency behind Dexter Lawrence, along with the solid play of D.J. Davidson, gives the Giants more flexibility on their defensive line. I would contend the team still needs depth at the position, but it’s not nearly as big of a priority if the team does not retain A’Shawn Robinson.

Riley’s ability to handle the nose and remove two-gaps may give the Giants the option to use more advanced techniques (lag/backdoor) on a more consistent basis, for he’s demonstrated the ability and strength to maneuver between gaps in a TITE front, which will ease the burden on the Giants’ linebackers.

He’s still learning the speed of the NFL, but has impressed in his limited snaps. I’m looking forward to his usage and snap-share in Week 18.