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Mike Tomlin Discusses Bringing In Elijah Riley, Believes He Can Contribute

In his press conference after practice today, head coach Mike Tomlin talked about the team bringing in S Elijah Riley on a waiver claim.

“We’re just going to continue to turn over to get the best collective we can in this process in an effort to find the appropriate 53. It’s just a function of business this time of the year.” 

When asked how hard it is for someone to contribute who was just brought in, Tomlin said it’s possible, via video posted to the team’s website.

“Difficult, but not impossible, certainly,” he said.

Riley is interesting as he’s a guy who started seven games last season. Pittsburgh will be his third team in as many years, though he has familiarity with assistant general manager Andy Weidl, as Weidl was with the Eagles when they originally signed him as an undrafted free agent. He replaces Donovan Stiner, who struggled with missed tackles in the preseason and especially last Saturday against the Jaguars.

Riley’s path to the 53-man roster is a little bit clearer than it would be for most guys brought in this late in the process. With Miles Killebrew dealing with an injury, Riley could make the team as a backup safety and special-teamer. The problem is that Riley has limited special teams experience, playing just ten snaps last year after playing 65 as a rookie. If Killebrew is going to miss an extended period, Pittsburgh might want to go with someone who has more special teams upside for the last spot.

It’s clear that the team sees something in him, though. In his seven starts for the Jets last year, he registered 45 tackles, a sack, and a pass deflection. Of those 45 tackles, three were for a loss of yards. Pittsburgh already has a few guys capable of playing safety in their various defenses, but I wonder if they have a spot they think Riley could be a fit for. As a converted cornerback, he has the versatility that Pittsburgh traditionally looks for. I wouldn’t count on him making the 53, but the potential is absolutely there for it to happen.

With the Riley addition, Pittsburgh’s safety depth is now Minkah Fitzpatrick, Terrell Edmunds, Damontae Kazee, Killebrew and Riley. I think if Killebrew misses time, the question becomes whether Pittsburgh wants someone with more of a history of contributing on special teams or if they want someone who can step in on defense. Killebrew didn’t play a ton defensively last year, but if they feel comfortable enough with what they have on special teams, Riley could definitely sneak onto the roster.

I would expect Riley to play Sunday against the Detroit Lions, and his performance will be incredibly important for his chances to stick on the roster.

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