Much of the Raiders secondary has been re-tooled this off-season and the new additions figure to provide much needed competition to the group. The addition of Curtis Riley should provide the potential for some solid coverage ability in deep zones.
A first year starter in New York this past season. Riley has been a fringe roster player up until 2018 bouncing around the practice squad and active rosters for Tennessee and New York as a cornerback. In his first year as a starter Riley switched to safety and hauled in 4 interceptions. He did enough to be added aa competition at safety in Oakland and could be a valuable addition as a ballhawk in the centerfield.
Breaking on the ball
Riley mostly played single high in 2018 and put himself in good positions to defend the pass. The Giants did run some change up coverages and Riley made the most of those opportunities. The play above is one such example. After playing cover 1 for much of the game, the Giants have the Panthers offense in a 3rd and long situation. The defense is in dime personnel and both slot players bail to the deep half allowing Riley to jump an in-breaking route. In this case he comes down with an interception against Cam Newton.
This is a very similar coverage but this time out of Nickel personnel. The cornerbacks are the players bailing deep allowing Riley to jump the slant from the slot receiver. Riley reads it all the way and turns this pick into a score.
The play above highlights a technique that Paul Guenther teaches out of Cover 1 called “overlap.” The deep safety will drive on a crossing route while the cornerback replaces him in deep coverage. You can see the cornerback point to his man, signaling for Riley to break on the route. Raiders fans saw Reggie Nelson attempt this adjustment with poor results for the past few years. Riley has more spring in his legs and almost gets another interception here.
For all of Riley’s potential in coverage, he is lacking in the physicality department. Too many times on tape does it look like Riley has no interest in getting in on a tackle. The play above isn’t egregious but shows that Riley lacks the mentality to be a dominant safety. He sees his corner slip on the play but still jogs hoping his teammate will figure it out. Great safeties don’t do this. Even Karl Joseph who hasn’t yet met his full potential would never do this.
Here Riley again is perfectly content for his teammates to make the play.
Football is ultimate “want it” sport. Taking someone to the ground against their will has little to do with strength or speed and more to do with having a nasty attitude. Riley many times seems hesitant and had way too many of these on tape to just gloss over and point to his 63 solo tackles in 2018. These are admittedly cherry picked plays, but Riley has at least 2 of these every week and right now its a serious hole in his game.
This tweet from Levi Damien sums up his tackling deficiencies nicely.
#Raiders new safety Curtis Riley led all safeties last season with 23 missed tackles and his @PFF run stop grade grade of 37.1 was last in the league among 64 qualifying safeties.— Levi Damien (@LeviDamien) March 22, 2019
Riley can be an effective player as a Raider. He is young and can still improve in every area of his game with the right coaching. He has proven starting experience and can be a ballhawk in the secondary. Perhaps his best role would be as a sub-package safety where he can come in on passing downs to maximize his talents. If Lamarcus Joyner starts at Free Safety and moves to the slot in Nickel personnel, Riley could come in and provide range in the back end of the secondary. However he needs desperately to clean up his tackling before he can be a reliable option.