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2021 NFL Draft Prospect Interview: Riley Cole, LB, South Alabama

Could Cole fill in the Colts’ need at SAM backer?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: JAN 30 Senior Bowl Photo by Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

A fan-favorite series is coming back to the site as it is officially prospect interview season. For anybody new to the site or for people who need a reminder, every draft season I sit down with prospects that are going to be in the upcoming NFL Draft to talk with them about their off-field accomplishments and some film aspects on the field. While I don’t always talk to star players, I have been able to talk to a few players who eventually ended up with the Colts such as Khari Willis, Marvell Tell III, and Rock Ya-Sin.

Our next prospect interview is with South Alabama linebacker Riley Cole. We had a great conversation about his positional fit in the NFL, his ability as a run defender, and his willingness— rather, his excitement— to play special teams at the next level.


Background

Height: 6’2”

Weight: 242 pounds

Arm Length: 30 inches

Class: RS Senior

Cole is a former three-star recruit out of Oneonta High School in Oneonta, Alabama. He originally committed to Alabama but flipped his commitment to South Alabama late in the process. His career got off to a rough start when he suffered a season-ending injury in his first season. He bounced back strong and became a starter, though, as a redshirt freshman in 2017. Unfortunately, he suffered yet another season-ending injury, this time as a sophomore. He again came back from it stronger than ever as he became a leader on the South Alabama defense over his last two years. He finished his career with 218 tackles, 18 tackles for a loss, 5 sacks, 1 pass deflection, and 3 forced fumbles.

He was selected to participate in the Reese’s Senior Bowl in Mobile after his senior season.

ZH: You originally committed to Alabama out of high school. What led to you eventually flipping to South Alabama?

RC: So I de-committed because Kirby Smart and Mel Tucker left. I already had a good relationship with Coach Joey Jones (South Alabama Head Coach) because he was my first offer ever. So I still had that relationship and he actually called me before I de-committed and, I went down two or three days before signing day and spent the whole day with him. I just loved it and Mobile so much so it made the decision easy for me.

ZH: You were invited to participate in the Senior Bowl right there in your college town of Mobile. How was that experience for you?

RC: It was amazing. Everybody took me as the hometown guy. Being able to stay in our team hotel and actually getting to practice in my home stadium was very advantageous for me. I was comfortable with everything and it was definitely a cool experience.


True NFL Position

ZH: I saw they moved you around a bit at South Alabama the last few years. Where do you think is your best fit in a linebacker group?

RC: I’m not too sure, honestly. I would probably say SAM. I’m also one of those guys who likes to do a little bit of everything. I don’t like to say I can only do some things. I have played a plethora of positions in my career so I take pride in being able to do anything and everything on a defense.


Run Defense

ZH: Your run defense was your best trait from what I saw on film. How big are identifying your keys and reads when it comes to being a dominant run stopper?

RC: It is huge. I had a lot of trouble with it at first, I was trying to see too much. My coach then really helped zero in on my keys and what I’m looking at to simplify the game for me. The line is going to tell you where it is going as soon as they line up. I learned how to watch film and get tendencies from the line, running back, what the quarterback is doing... Being able to identify those things pre-snap helped me a lot when it came to game day.

ZH: Yeah, that was a big struggle for me too when watching film. You really have to narrow your focus right?

RC: Exactly. Narrowing what you are looking at can help determine what teams are running and makes you more prepared for the run game.

ZH: How much film would you say you watch in a week?

RC: I know it’s a lot (laughs). Mondays we watch it on our own— because Monday was our off day— and we’d get together as players and watch it. We would pick up tendencies that we see and then we’d take it into our position meeting and install day on Tuesday. Then we would go over that and start watching game film, and continue to pick up on those tendencies. We would just pick out as much as we could to dissect the play before it even happened.


Special Teams Role

ZH: You know you aren’t likely going in the first round of this draft. For players taken after the first, special teams are huge in how long you last. How comfortable are you stepping in and playing on special teams in year one?

RC: I have no problem with that. I just want to get on the field as soon as possible. Whatever that may be, I’m willing to do it. I happen to love special teams. I had to beg some of my coaches over the past two years to put me on more special teams. I wanted to have more of an impact on the game and I felt like I could do that anytime I was on the field in general.


NFL Outlook

ZH: What is my team getting when they draft Riley Cole?

RC: Just a hardworking, lunch pail guy. I don’t complain about much. I’m always working out and working on football. My whole life is around football, it is all I do and all I think about. I’m always in the gym. I’m just a really quiet guy who loves to play football.


Final Thoughts

Riley Cole doesn’t fit the Colts’ typical type at the linebacker position. Also, with his injury history and limited experience in coverage, I’d bet he is more of a day three type in this class. I do think there is some value in what he can bring as a depth player and special teamer. He is a physical player who can play the SAM well while also contributing on special teams.

Unfortunately, the Colts drafted that type of player last year in Jordan Glasgow. So, I’d highly doubt Cole ends up on the Colts in this draft. However, I do think he has all the makings of a player who can carve out a role as a special teamer in the NFL.