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NFL Draft

2021 NFL Draft Scouting Report: LB Riley Cole

  • The Draft Network
  • January 29, 2021
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Riley Cole projects as a special teams presence and a rotational linebacker at the NFL level. Cole enjoyed a career season in 2020 in his fifth and final season with the South Alabama program, logging 96 tackles in just 10 games played. But despite the added production, Cole appeared to be moved away from some of his best reps on tape, which came as the SAM linebacker playing on the edge of the defense. Cole has marginal athleticism in short spaces and lacks the explosiveness to drive and trigger into gaps with the swiftness to be a stacked linebacker in a featured role, but he showed competency to serve as a backup—and if he can thrive on special teams, he could challenge for a spot on a 53-man roster with time. Cole is going to have to make his NFL living with intelligence, anticipation, and dirty work reps. His pathway is clear, but he’ll need to land on the right roster in order to have staying power. Two season-ending injuries during his time with the program may make him a UDFA. 

Ideal Role: Backup SAM linebacker and potential special teams contributor.

Scheme Fit: 4-3 under front base defense.


Written by: Kyle Crabbs

Games watched: Nebraska (2019), Memphis (2019), Appalachian State (2019), Coastal Carolina (2020), Louisiana (2020), Troy (2020)

Best Game Studied: Appalachian State (2019)

Worst Game Studied: Louisiana (2020)

Tackling: His head-up tackling is hindered by slow feet and poor lateral agility. He’ll take ambitious angles to shoot gaps but lacks the length, closing burst, and foot speed to adjust and work back into position. 

Football IQ/Instincts: He really struggled in a stack position to diagnose plays with consistency. He did not do well with keying run or pass and was slow to transition into drops. His feel for navigating gaps and pressing backs into taking his gap is below average. 

Competitive Toughness: He has an admirable motor and he does do well to scrape and rally to the football. Physically showed a little something on the edge in 2019 reps to stack up tackles and tight ends and discard blocks, but putting him between the tackles offers poor results. 

Pass Coverage Ability: There’s no man-to-man coverage upside with his athleticism. Poor reactive quickness and below-average processing power result in getting sucked out of the B-level with far too much ease and massive throwing windows to attack. 

Run Defending: Cole provided plenty of tackle production, but his feel for developing gaps was poor and his anticipation of cut-back paths was also not up to snuff. I liked him better on the LOS as a leverage and contain defender versus playing stacked in the box. 

Block Deconstruction: Cole did show well here playing as a SAM on the LOS, violent hands and a firm punch allowed him to stun effectively and discard to uncover and turn runs back inside. His inside reps are too finesse and he lacks the length to recover once he’s given up his chest. 

Lateral Mobility: Cole is a straight-line defender and he does not have the lateral range to play as a MIKE linebacker. Even in short spaces, his adjustments and cuts are stale and will fail to flash and mirror ball-carriers bouncing back against the grain. 

Flexibility: Cole does not show desirable mobility throughout his frame. He is static with his base and lacks the ability to play with any spring when forced to create sudden changes of direction or steep angles to decelerate. He's a linear fill player when playing downhill into the LOS; failing to adjust his angles appropriately.

Leadership: Cole is a well-regarded player who fought through adversity to continue his playing career after several injuries. His hard work culminated with a successful senior season at South Alabama and he’s got plus work ethic to bring with him to the next level. 

Versatility: Cole struggles with playing stacked off the football and is of little value against the pass. He’s an early-down run defender first and foremost and has fringe athletic ability to play on special teams.


TDN Consensus: To Be Determined

Kyle Crabbs: 67/100

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