When the Pittsburgh Steelers made their final roster cuts ahead of their 2023 NFL season, defensive back Elijah Riley was not on the list of waived players. The fourth-year corner faced tough competition in training camp just to make the team, but now Riley is the Steelers’ sneaky roster cut survivor who will make an eye-opening impact in 2023.
CB Elijah Riley could do big things for the Steelers after surviving roster cuts
The Steelers gave up the 13th-most passing yards in the NFL last season. While there are plenty of factors that lead to a poor showing like that, it was clear that the secondary needed offseason reconstruction.
After the end of the 2022 campaign, the Steelers let Cameron Sutton, Terrell Edmunds, and Arthur Maulet go and replaced them with Patrick Peterson, Keanu Neal, Chandon Sullivan, Elijah Riley, and second-round pick Joey Porter Jr.
Riley is an interesting case, and he went from a training camp body to a roster bubble player to a Steelers 53-man roster DB to a potential starter in Week 1 of the 2023 season.
The 25-year-old DB started his NFL journey as an undrafted free agent out of Army in 2020. He signed with the Philadelphia Eagles, went to the New York Jets, and spent most of last season on the Steelers practice squad. All told Riley has 17 games of NFL experience in three seasons with 50 tackles and one pass defended as a safety and slot corner.
In the last year, Riley hasn’t changed as much as the league has. As offenses get back to running the ball after several years of pass-crazy seasons, safety/nickel corner hybrids are becoming all the rage. Think Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, a player who is quick enough to stay with little slot receivers, big enough to cover a tight end, and tough enough to blitz the QB or tackle an oncoming running back.
At 6-foot, 205 pounds, the former Army safety fits all those criteria.
After making the final Steelers roster leading into Week 1 of the 2023 season, Riley isn’t just sitting back and enjoying his new full-time active roster paycheck. The DB is challenging offseason acquisition Chandon Sullivan for the starting nickel corner gig.
The Steelers head into this season with a still young and unproven offense taking on the brutal AFC and the incredibly tough AFC North. The Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns both have the potential to be playoff-caliber teams this season, and the Cincinnati Bengals are among the Super Bowl favorites.
For the Steelers to make the playoffs or even keep Mike Tomlin’s .500 or better streak alive, the defense is going to have to get even better than last season, when they finished as the 10th-ranked scoring defense, and improve on their 13th-rated passing D.
Elijah Riley will be a major part of this. To have a player on the field who can handle multiple things an offense throws at him on a single drive is hugely valuable. While he was once seen as a tweener, the DB is now a valuable weapon, and by keeping him on the 53-man roster and letting him challenge for a starting spot, Tomlin and company obviously see that.
So, if you are a Steelers fan who wasn’t familiar with Riley before now, start getting familiar because he is the Steelers’ sneaky roster cut survivor who will make an eye-opening impact in 2023.