While the Minnesota Vikings hope they addressed the majority of their issues on the offensive line through free agency, there is at least one defensive starter on defense that hasn’t been replaced.
With the signing of Terence Newman and the anticipated improvement of Mackensie Alexander, they should be able to cover for the loss of Captain Munnerlyn at nickel back, but no one has been signed to date to replace weakside linebacker Chad Greenway after his retirement.
That’s one of the reasons the Vikings have been looking into some of the top linebackers in the draft, including former LSU outside linebacker Duke Riley, who is ranked sixth among outside linebackers and projected as a second-round pick, according to NFLDraftScout.com.
Although the Vikings interview every prospect at the Senior Bowl, where Riley participated, they double-dipped and had a formal interview with him at the NFL Scouting Combine a month after the Senior Bowl.
“All my meetings go really well. They love who I am. They love how I can write up the whole defense by position, not just one but multiple defenses. They watch my tape and love my tape. Film don’t lie. They love the things I can do and things I’m capable of,” Riley said at the Combine.
“They basically draw up a formation, 11 personnel offense, and make me draw my base defense and nickel defense on the white board and paper.”
Riley wasn’t an immediate starter at LSU, biding his time behind a deep corps of linebackers, including 2016 second-round pick Deion Jones, before getting his shot as a senior.
Finally a starter in 2016, Riley took full advantage. He had 92 tackles, including three games with 11 or more, but had only two sacks and no interceptions.
Becoming a starter and with a coaching change, with Dave Aranda coaching him, helped Riley excel in his final year.
“I always tell people he was the best thing that ever happened to me. Some of our guys would say the same thing,” Riley said. “I’m not just speaking for myself. He made us become students of the game.”
That should endear him to Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer and linebackers coach Adam Zimmer, both of whom embrace smart players.
Riley also leaned on former Tigers linebackers Jones, Jalen Mills and Kwon Alexander to help him with the predraft process.
But, mostly, Riley’s tape will tell teams what to expect as he transitions to the NFL.
“I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t put up good tape for the scouts to see and I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t make any plays,” he said.
He also has some good measurables for the position.
With long arms (32-7/8 inches), the second-fastest time in the 40-yard dash (4.58) and fourth-fastest in the 20-yard shuttle and three-cone drill among linebackers at the Combine, Riley can move and take up space in the passing lanes.
He said he learned some of the mantras of the position from the deep lineage of linebackers at LSU that came before him.
“When you see it, go get it. Don’t wait for a play to happen, you go make it,” he said. “Don’t be a highlight, make a highlight. That’s one thing that always stuck in my head.”
That sounds like advice he will have to continue to implement in his game, according to the weaknesses listed on him by NFL.com.
“Gets in trouble when he sits and waits in the hole. Has to trigger downhill early to overcome limited size and athleticism. Gets caught in the second-level trash in his pursuit,” analyst Lance Zielein wrote about Riley. “Needs to take better paths to the ball. Not a quick-twitch linebacker. Has build-up speed but lacks short-area quickness to finish from challenging tackle angles. Foot quickness isn’t good enough to match up against running backs coming out of backfield.”