A player that secretly rose his stock at the Pittsburgh Steelers OTAs was veteran safety and slot cornerback Elijah Riley. The Army product forced two fumbles and hauled in an interception in OTAs earlier this spring and it impressed the coaches.
Riley is an experienced depth piece as he started seven games for the New York Jets in 2021 and logged quality snaps with the Steelers last season. Now with a full offseason as a member of the Steelers, Riley looks to crack the team’s final roster after spending the majority of last season on the team’s practice squad.
Riley credited his hard-working mentality to the time that he spent at West Point as a cadet in the Army. He is looking to use that mentality to snatch a job from somebody else in the secondary.
“West Point has prepared me for a lot,” Riley said. “I don’t think I’m gonna face too much harder than there, you know? It set the stage for the adversity that I’d face. The only thing guaranteed is change, so constantly learning and growing, I’m trying to put my best foot forward.”
The Steelers’ defensive backs coach Grady Brown stated that he believes that Riley is good enough to stick around and acknowledged that in the team’s Week 16 game against the Las Vegas Raiders last year, Riley provided the team with valuable reps in the secondary.
“I’ll tell you what, he can play in this league,” secondary coach Grady Brown said at minicamp. “You go back to the Raiders game and he gave us some really valuable reps. It’s just about building consistency. But there’s no doubt he can play in this league.”
The need for depth at safety and slot is apparent with players such as Tre Norwood and Chandon Sullivan not being the end-all, be-all players that the Steelers need. In addition, Riley is a smooth tackler that can help out on special teams which should also help his case to make the team. Following last season, the Steelers lost multiple key special teamers and Riley could be a guy that can fill one of those voids.
Nonetheless, Riley will have to duplicate his ball-hawking performances throughout training camp and the preseason if he wants a chance to be on the Steelers’ final 53-man roster. If all else fails, Riley is likely to earn one of the team’s practice squad spots as he can be promoted and provide quality snaps like he did a season ago.
37 • Elijah Riley, Safety, Army
6-foot-0, 205 pounds, 25 years old, 4th Season
Acquired: The Steelers claimed Riley off of waivers after the New York Jets cut him prior to the 2021 season.
Last season: The New York Jets cut Riley prior to the 2022 season and then he was claimed by the Steelers a day later. He appeared in four games for the Steelers in 2022 and posted three total tackles. Riley played a season-high 10 defensive snaps in Week 16 against the Las Vegas Raiders.
Career: After going undrafted in the 2020 NFL Draft, Riley signed with the Philadelphia Eagles as an undrafted free agent. The Eagles waived him prior to the season but re-signed to the team’s practice squad. Riley was promoted to the Eagles’ active roster for their Week 5 and Week 6 games and then again at the end of the season. He finished the season dressing for five games but failed to record an official stat.
Prior to Week 11 in 2021, Riley was signed by the New York Jets off of the Eagles’ practice squad. He started all seven games that he appeared in for the Jets and had the best year of his career. Riley finished the season with 42 total tackles and one pass defended for the Jets.
Over his first three seasons, Riley has played in 17 career games and logged seven starts. He has recorded 45 total tackles, one pass defended, and one sack.
College: After a decorated career at Newfield High School in New York, Riley committed to Army to continue his football career. As a true freshman, Riley appeared in 13 games and started seven for the Black Knights.
He finished the 2016 season with 47 combined tackles, six passes defended, and three interceptions. In the Heart of Dallas Bowl against North Texas, Riley hauled in two interceptions and made four total tackles.
In 2017, Riley only played in five games for the Black Knights but made the most of it. He finished the season with 20 tackles, three passes defended, 1.5 tackles for loss, and one interception.
As a junior, Riley played in all 13 games for Army as he tallied 55 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, and a career-high 10 passes defended.
In his final year at Army, Riley took over the full-time starting boundary cornerback responsibilities for the Black Knights. He posted career-highs with 79 total tackles, eight tackles for loss, and three forced fumbles as a senior. In addition, Riley added three interceptions and nine passes defended.
Over his four years at West Point, Riled logged 44 game appearances, 201 total tackles, seven interceptions, 28 passes defended, 17.5 tackles for loss, and three forced fumbles.
Salary cap and future: Riley is entering a contract season with the Steelers and will cost $1.01 million against the team’s cap space if he makes the team. He will become an unrestricted free agent following the 2023 season.
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