I'm generally leery of the oft-repeated phrase, "Trust the coaches." It's not that it's total nonsense. It's not that they aren't generally right. It's that they are human. By that very fact, they make mistakes too. Les Miles makes mistakes. Nick Saban makes mistakes. Urban Meyer makes mistakes. It's part of the equation.
But when it comes to coaching and scouting linebackers, it's hard to argue against much of what John Chavis does (though, if D.J. Welter is really the starter at MLB this year, that may be one thing). So when Chavis extended a late offer to John Curtis LB Duke Riley, while it seemed like a head scratcher, I have to return to the whole "Trust Chavis" mantra, which I suppose makes me no better than anyone else.
Riley was a star player at John Curtis HS, which, depending on your perspective, either says a lot about his ability or next to nothing. Curtis hasn't churned out many prolific college football players and even their biggest stars wind up being average at best at the next level (paging Joe McKnight). But Riley did earn Defensive Player of the Year Honors and All-State for division 2A.
He captained the defense that won back-to-back state titles in his Junior and Senior years. By all accounts he's an accomplished HS athlete.
There is next to no free footage of Riley available. The above clip is found on LSU Sports from their signing day coverage.
The first thing you'll notice is that Riley has really good speed. He can really run for a guy who plays around 205. He's got a nice frame, though he's not overly big. I would imagine he'll wind up in the 225 range, something like Ali Highsmith's size.
The highlights show that he has a playmaking streak. A couple of interceptions and a fortuitous fumble recovery. This could be that he's got a nose for the football.
At :50 he shows a good attacking nature and runs through his hit, though his tackling form is lacking. Ideally he'd get lower and wrap up, but looks like he was aiming for a big blow and did deliver it well.
At :56 is probably the most promising clip. He shows strong read and react ability, quickly dissects the screen and blows the play up. Very impressive all around.
I don't see Riley playing this well unless he finds his way onto special teams. His speed should be an asset there, but the competition will be stiff.
I expect 2013 to be a redshirt year for Riley.
I think opinions of Riley will vary based on those who watched him play through high school and those that didn't. Many who have seen him play are excited for his potential, but others are less enthused.
LSU is Riley's dream school, so it's always fantastic to see that come to fruition. Though I find taking him a bit confusing. Spots in the class were waning and with other big names on the horizon, Riley just didn't seem to be the best fit, especially coming into a extremely loaded LB depth chart.
I don't mean to be overly critical of Riley. He's got good speed and seems to be a smart athlete. But when I comb over the depth chart, it's hard to envision him beating out many of the names. I do think Riley can become a strong ST stalwart, and serve as a team leader through his work ethic and example. But I'm not sure I see him as a future star in the LSU defense.
High End: Potential starter.
Low End: Never plays.
Realistic: ST stud and team leader.