Duke Riley probably had an idea the Falcons were interested in him, and the former LSU linebacker wasn’t surprised in the least Friday evening when the Falcons used the No. 75 pick of the draft to select him in the third round.
He was flat-out excited.
The quickish Tiger from New Orleans was one of about 30 college players to have private, pre-draft workouts with the Falcons. He knows a thing to two about the team, too, as former LSU teammates Jalen Collins and Deion Jones are on the squad.
“I’m so excited to be a Dirty Bird,” Riley said by phone. “I’m so excited. I’m just thankful to be a part of a program like the Atlanta Falcons …
“(The Falcons) love the background of (LSU) players. They love our work ethic. They love players that can run. I guess they love my attitude, my passion and my enthusiasm for the game.”
Riley goes a shade under 6-feet-1, and about 230 pounds. He played all the linebacker spots for the Tigers. While many NFL talent evaluators project him as a weakside linebacker, where he played the most for LSU, Falcons coach Dan Quinn said he envisions Riley as “an inside linebacker.”
More than anything, Riley can move, much like his predecessors at LSU, where he started only his senior seasons after trailing Kwan Alexander of the Bucs and Jones.
Quinn — who’s smitten regularly by “space tacklers” — is attracted to Riley’s “passion, his speed, his tackling, his sideline to sideline, and he can contribute on all four downs,” the coach said. “He’s a very versatile guy.
This marks the second consecutive year that the Falcons have spent their first two draft choices to choose defenders.
It the third straight time they’ve tabbed an LSU defender in the draft. Collins, a cornerback, was a second-round pick in 2015, and Jones, a linebacker, was picked in the second round last April.
The Falcons entered Friday with a second-round choice, but none in the third after trading that pick Thursday to Seattle to move up five spots to choose UCLA edge rusher Takkarist McKinley 26th in the first round.
They were content to stay put with the 63rd overall pick Friday until the Buffalo Bills came calling with the offer of their third-round pick (No. 75 overall) and two fifth-rounders in exchange for it.
In the middle of what’s considered a deep draft, general manager Thomas Dimitroff was attracted to the Bills’ offer. “We felt there were a lot of good players there for third-round value,” he said.
“I was really amazed at how much interest there was in that spot. Quite honestly, we were set where we were, and it was one, two and three calls coming in at the same time for that position.”
Riley made 93 tackles, nine for lost yardage including 1.5 sacks, last season, and has played on every special-teams squad.
“I know they run a lot of cover-3, they love a linebacker who can run, a linebacker who can play in space. That’s how I know I fit their program really well,” he said. “Special teams, linebacker … it doesn’t matter where they put me. … I love being a guy who runs sideline to sideline.”
Quinn said he wasn’t really cognizant of the Falcons picking an LSU defender three years in a row, that it wasn’t done with specific forethought.
Dimitroff, though, suggested that there are reasons the Dirty Birds keep choosing Tigers.
“These guys are athletes down there, through and through football players,” he explained. “They live and breathe football, which we think is fantastic.
“They’re very competitive, have a gritty side, they want to play, and I just find that there’s a versatility to them that is attractive. They’ve played in front of huge crowds and fanatical fans.”