Every year, there are a few NFL prospects who fly under the radar yet end up making an impact as a rookie. It’s very possible that’s what happens with South Alabama linebacker Riley Cole.
Despite dealing with multiple season-ending injuries during his time in college, Riley managed to bounce back and prove that he can be a three-down linebacker. Over the course of his career with the Jaguars, he had 218 total tackles, 18 tackles for loss, five sacks, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.
His production earned him an invite to the Senior Bowl, where he managed to impress several NFL scouts. If that wasn’t enough, Cole had a solid outing at his pro day in March.
Cole completed the 40-yard dash in 4.71 seconds and three-cone drill in 7.46 seconds. He also had 26 reps on the bench press and posted a 32.5-inch vertical.
We sat down with Riley Cole to discuss his pro day, how he dealt with adversity at South Alabama, his preparation for the NFL Draft and much more.
The Spun: How would you grade your pro day?
Riley Cole: I thought it went pretty well. You always want to run faster, but I think I did better than people expected. I thought I did well during the field drills, and I did some offensive drills as well.
The Spun: We saw you take some reps at fullback during your pro day. What are your thoughts on potentially playing that position?
RC: I’m actually all for it. It was something I kind of played in high school. I used to be a running back/tight end hybrid type of player. It’s funny how that all comes full circle now. I’m all for playing offense if it allows me to get on the field and help the team.
Senior Bowl alum LB Riley Cole also took FB reps at @WeAreSouth_FB pro-day as some NFL teams project him as two-way player & core ST’er—THE MORE YOU CAN DO!
Hand 9 1/2
Arm 30 1/8
BP 26x pic.twitter.com/sj6vY2sqJn
— Jim Nagy (@JimNagy_SB) March 19, 2021
The Spun: As for the linebacker position, what are your best attributes on the field?
RC: Definitely my instincts and knowledge for the game. I pride myself on being in the right spots. My physicality is something that stands out too. I like to think of myself as a dominant player from a physical standpoint.
The Spun: Do you feel like you’re flying under the radar?
RC: I guess people can say I am an underdog because I don’t get as much media attention. That doesn’t bother me though, I don’t care to be a big name. I just want to play football. I didn’t do this to become famous, I did this because I love the game. I don’t really care about the media all that much. As long as I get to play football for a team and get paid too do so, I’ll be a happy man.
NFL scouts made the drive from Auburn to Mobile last night to checkout LB Riley Cole at South Alabama pro-day. Cole active & instinctive and he showed out in Senior Bowl game. He’s going to be flying down on ST cover units for some NFL team this fall. #TheDraftStartsInMobile pic.twitter.com/R2CW8UDRAE
— Jim Nagy (@JimNagy_SB) March 19, 2021
The Spun: You suffered two major injuries, yet came back and showed that you can stay healthy in 2019 and 2020. What was your mindset like going through that adversity?
RC: After each injury I had, I always came back bigger, faster and stronger. That was my mindset after every surgery. I kept telling myself that I needed to come back better so this wouldn’t happen again. I got my degree in exercise science. I got to study the body and learn how everything works, so I had the chance to experiment with myself on how to come back from injuries. I definitely think if I didn’t go through that I wouldn’t be where I’m at today. People might bring up the injuries and say I’m injury-prone, but I promise you if I didn’t have that first ACL surgery during my freshman year, I wouldn’t have the mindset to get to where I am today. I’m very grateful for every piece of adversity I’ve had to deal with.
RILEY COLE with ANOTHER major turnover for South Alabama!
Jags ball! pic.twitter.com/AX51xsNKTV
— Sun Belt Pages (@SBPages) November 21, 2020
The Spun: Which linebackers do you like to watch on tape?
RC: I always love watching Luke Kuechly. I feel like that’s someone who I’ve connected with. I don’t really know who I play like, but I’ve enjoyed watching him and Fred Warner. I always try to take little bits and pieces from all the big guys in the league right now.
The Spun What are your goals for your rookie season?
RC: Try to earn my way to every special teams rep. Once I get that done, I’ll try to find a role on defense.
The Spun What is an NFL team getting in Riley Cole?
RC: A blue-collar guy who loves football and loves to put in the work that needs to be done to help the team win.
So thankful for the opportunity that @JimNagy_SB and the @seniorbowl were able to give me and all of the college athletes this year. Glad I could play one last game in Hancock Whitney stadium! pic.twitter.com/aR1lwu5fh9
— Riley cole (@Rileyc44) February 1, 2021
Cole certainly has what it takes to make plays on special teams as a rookie, and with the right development, he could carve out a role for himself at linebacker. Most analysts’ projections currently have him coming off the board on Day 3 of the draft.
You can read more of our interviews with athletes or media stars here.