New Faces 2020: S Curtis Riley

There isn’t much else to do while we sit here and wait for news about whether or not there will even be training camp, so it seems as good a time as any to bring back this series, in which we look to introduce some of the new players that the Pittsburgh Steelers have added to the mix since the end of the 2019 season.

The team added some notable pieces in free agency, which was important, because they didn’t have much to work with in terms of draft capital due to previous trades. They also made liberal use of the XFL’s closure, signing about as many players from there as the rest of the league combined. Even while claiming that they didn’t have a lot of roster room, they still signed a good number of rookie college free agents as well, enough that they had to release three players just to make room for them.

Even while teams are trimming their rosters down to 80 players, they are still finding chances to add to their rosters. With most teams waiving a number of players, some have been active on the waiver wire. For the Pittsburgh Steelers, they have signed two veteran street free agents since training camp opened, including, most recently, safety Curtis Riley, who, liked running back Wendell Smallwood, had spent the entire offseason as an unsigned free agent.

Originally undrafted out of Fresno State in 2015, he was signed by the Tennessee Titans after the draft, and would spend his first three seasons there. He spent his rookie season on the reserve/injured list following an ankle injury during training camp.

He played under Dick LeBeau during his first two seasons on a 53-man roster, though sparingly, and not at all in 2016. The following season, he recorded 12 total tackles, but he also did manage to get his first career interception, with two passes defensed.

His most significant season came the one year he spent with the New York Giants in 2018. He emerged as a 16-game starter that year, recording 75 tackles and four interceptions, one of which he returned for a touchdown, with five passes defensed. He spent the 2019 season with the Oakland Raiders, starting three games while recording 34 total tackles, and notching his first career forced fumble.

One of the big concerns about Riley is his tackling, and not just his form. He misses a lot of tackles—Pro Football Reference has him down with 18 for the 2018 season—and he’s not going to have much chance of working on it under these circumstances.

What will help him is the fact that he can be useful on special teams. He played 262 snaps there for the Raiders a year ago. And the fact that he is capable of serving as depth at free safety, which no other experienced backup safety on the team can, gives him a legitimate shot of making the team despite being added at such a late stage.

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