Elijah Riley Proves It Against Elite Talent

Photo: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Entering Saturday’s game against Michigan, the Army Black Knights had won 10 consecutive games. While that streak ended in an overtime loss, Army once again had a respectable performance against a national power.

The last lost that Army had suffered came on the road against the Oklahoma Sooners in 2018, a game where cornerback Elijah Riley gave up the game-winning touchdown in overtime. Oklahoma would go on to make the College Football Playoff, while Army would finish the season as a ranked team.

Riley is a now senior cornerback, and the best player on the Black Knights defense and a team captain. While he played a great game last year against the Sooners, he was eventually beaten inside by star receiver CeeDee Lamb for the game sealing touchdown. One bad rep against a future first-round pick after playing close to flawlessly for all of regulation. 

Against Michigan this past Saturday, Riley built on that performance and played arguably the best game of his college career.

This was no easy task for Riley and the Black Knights defense, as Michigan is stacked with offensive talent that will eventually play on Sunday’s. The Wolverines have multiple offensive lineman who could be drafted in 2020, as well as a stacked wide receiver unit. On Saturday, Riley was tasked with covering both Tarik Black and Nico Collins. 

Riley ended up being the star of the game for Army, racking up 13 tackles (9 solo), 2 sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. 

I previously wrote about Elijah RIley’s skillset, labeling him as the best NFL prospect on any of the service academies. That skillset, one that projects favorably for sub package duty in the NFL, was on full display yesterday.

Riley showed how effective he can be as a blitzer off the edge, making plays and finishing with strong tackles. With his 6’0 and 205 pound frame, he consistently disrupted the stems of the receivers he was covering along the boundary. On top of that, he fit and filled against the run and finished tackles after underneath receptions.

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In the NFL, Riley should fit well at the overhang position, able to cover running backs, tight ends and bigger slot receivers while being able to help in run support and the pass rush.

Michigan wide receivers Nico Collins and Tarik Black are future NFL receivers, potentially high draft picks. Same goes for CeeDee Lamb, and Riley showed the ability to cover the speedy Marquise Brown in the 2018 Oklahoma matchup as well. He’s proven himself against elite wide receiver prospects for the past two seasons, while dominating against lesser teams. That’s the mark of a player capable of playing in the NFL, regardless if he comes from a service academy or not.

While Riley made a commitment to serve in the United States military after his education, he has NFL-caliber traits for a defensive back. He proved how well he can compete against Oklahoma last season, and proved it once again against Michigan.