Just a few months ago, NFL draft analysts, like Matt Miller, were scrambling for information on an LSU linebacker named Duke Riley.
There was so little info out there on the first-year starter that Miller actually messaged Riley through Twitter, asking him for clips of himself playing.
“Anything LSU will let you send me,” Miller said he wrote to Riley, “get it to me because I need it.”
Riley sent videos right over, of course.
“He was a free agent projection in August,” said Mike Detillier, a draft analyst for WWL 870.
Now, he’s a third-round pick.
The Atlanta Falcons took Riley with the 75th overall selection and 11th in the third round in the draft on Friday night in Philadelphia, plucking the 6-foot-1, 230-pound Buras native and continuing a tradition of sorts. Riley is the second straight LSU linebacker to surge from unknown to draft pick after a breakout senior season, joining Deion Jones, the Falcons’ second-round selection last season.
PHILADELPHIA — Tre'Davious White looked at the reporter as if he were crazy.
Riley and Jones’ careers in Baton Rouge were nearly identical. They spent the first three years as reserves, mostly playing on special teams before they elevated to starters as seniors.
Riley packed on more than 10 pounds ahead of his senior season, preparing himself to be one of two inside linebackers in defensive coordinator Dave Aranda’s 3-4 scheme. Riley thrived in 2016, finishing with 93 tackles, helping make a goal-line stand against Alabama and nabbing a game-changing interception against Ole Miss. It was a similar season to Jones’ in 2015.
“Duke has made the biggest jump of anyone in this draft class. Back-to-back years of having the same thing happen at LSU’s linebacker position,” Detillier said. “That’s incredible.”
Riley is a unique Hurricane Katrina transplant. His family actually moved to the New Orleans area after the storm decimated his hometown of Buras, a small bayou community on the finger of Louisiana’s boot that stretches the farthest into the Gulf of Mexico. They settled in Belle Chasse. His mother owns a restaurant there, and his father operates oil and gas platforms in Venice.
Riley’s story is just another in the inspiring LSU-related tales of the draft so far.
Leonard Fournette, picked fourth overall by the Jaguars in the first round Thursday, is originally from the poverty-stricken Seventh Ward of New Orleans. His slotted signing bonus is around $15 million. Cornerback Tre’Davious White, the 27th pick in the first round to the Bills, grew up in a crime-heavy neighborhood in Shreveport, sharing a mattress — not a bed — with his brother as a high schooler. His slotted signing bonus is around $5 million.
PHILADELPHIA — The paths for Leonard Fournette and Jamal Adams followed similar trajectories.
Katrina completely demolished Riley’s Buras home, pushing it off its foundation and into an orange grove. Years before that, Riley spent more than a week in a hospital as a child while battling spinal meningitis, an infection of the fluid and membranes around the brain and spinal cord that can be fatal. He was nearly blinded.
And Riley nearly never made it to Baton Rouge. It took his commitment during his senior year of high school to force LSU into offering him a regular scholarship. The Tigers originally offered him to be a grayshirt, when a player uses a redshirt as a freshman and pays his own way his first semester.
Now, here he is, an NFL player — just like another recent LSU linebacker.
“Before the season, everybody would ask me, ‘Do you want to be like Deion Jones? Do you want to be a Deion Jones?’ ” Riley said last fall. “Of course, I do. Look at the things Deion did when he was here. Look at the things that he’s doing now.”