Initially seen as a stop-gap option, Perry Riley Jr. proved he could be the #1 option for the Oakland Raiders at middle linebacker in 2017 and beyond.
After the Oakland Raiders struggled mightily at the middle linebacker position through the first five weeks of the season, it was assumed that this was going to be an existing issue for the rest of the year. But on October 4, 2016, Reggie McKenzie signed Perry Riley Jr. to a contract through the end of 2016.
Riley wasn’t expected to me more than a temporary band-aid, but he made an immediate impact in his first action as a Raider against the Chargers. For the game, Riley led the Raiders in tackles with 7 and also forced a crucial fumble which essentially took points away from the Chargers.
After making his first splash play as a Raider, Riley would perform consistently for the remainder of the season. In 11 games, he accumulated 48 tackles, 2 forced fumbles, and 1 pass defensed.
Those are very solid numbers for someone who was coming off of an Achilles tendon tear. Imagine if Riley had an entire offseason to catch up on the Raiders defense — he would be that much more effective.
Going into this offseason, the linebacker position has gained momentum as being something the Raiders should either target via the draft, or free agency.
Unfortunately, the Raiders likely wont make the big free agent signings like they did in 2016. Meaning you can almost certainly cross guys like Dont’a Hightower, Kiko Alonso and Zach Brown off the list. That leaves other players like A.J. Klein and Manti Teo as possible signings.
In my opinion, I would rather take the guy who spent some time in the defense as opposed to signing someone who will need to learn a brand new defense.
As for the draft, it would be something to behold if Reuben Foster were to fall to the Raiders at pick #24, but that seems highly unlikely. That would leave prospects such as Zach Cunningham and Jarrad Davis on the board. Speaking to our very own draft experts at Just Blog Baby, Nick Hjeltness and Ted Nguyen, it appears that neither Davis nor Cunningham is deserving of a first round grade. The Raiders would be reaching for a need if they were to select either prospect.
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That leaves Perry Riley Jr. For now, and possibly the next two to three years, Riley would provide steady linebacker play at an affordable price. Locking Riley up now to a two-year contract would be smart on Reggie McKenzie’s part.
Although the defense as a whole might have been terrible, there was a change once Riley was added. Being able to build on that for the next season will be crucial to Oakland’s success next season and beyond.
Along with his play, Riley has ingratiated himself with the rest of the locker room. He and Bruce Irvin were childhood friends. If Irvin approves of Riley’s play, the rest of Raider Nation should as well.
12 win seasons do not come around often. This team will have Super Bowl aspirations in 2017, and re-signing Perry Riley Jr. could be the first step in bringing a Lombardi trophy back to Oakland.