The 23-year-old rookie spent four years at Ball State before transferring to Vanderbilt for his senior football season where he earned his master’s degree and came away from the SEC with a chance for the NFL.
As the fourth-ranked QB on the roster, Neal will be fighting to prove he is more than just a “camp arm.”
R#5 OG#5, Riley Neal, QB
Age 23, 6’6”, 232 lbs.
Congratulations @Riley_Neal12 on earning a Masters Degree from Vanderbilt University! ⭐️— Derek Mason (@CoachDerekMason) May 7, 2020
Your future is bright with Limitless options, seize every opportunity like you are capable of doing! pic.twitter.com/EgKk2wDR6s
The (pretty) Good
At Vandy, Neal completed 57.8 percent of his passes for 1,585 yards with nine touchdowns and five interceptions. During his entire college career, Neal had a 59.6 percent completion rate, recording 8,978 yards plus 55 touchdowns and 30 interceptions. He also rushed for 1,410 yards and 15 touchdowns.
From Reddit (and thanks to jammy4041 for the link), here are some positive traits given in a scouting report after Neal finished at Ball State:
- Experience under center - While Neal operates in a spread-based system that has a lot of shotgun looks, he has also been able to work some under center. He has a good overall dropback from center and handles the snap effectively. Neal under center is also a go-to option for his team on 3rd or 4th-and-1 or less due to his ability to use his height and fall forward on a QB sneak.
- Pocket Presence - I really like Neal’s pocket presence against edge rushers, he has a great feel of when to step up and can break away from weak tackles, thought he will not make a living off of that.
- Ability to stand in under pressure - Slightly related to pocket presence, Neal’s gutsiness versus pressure is worth noting. He is willing to take a hit and can still deliver a well-placed football with pressure in his face.
- Ability to pass on the run - Neal has shown a great natural ability to get the ball downfield on the run, be it on a designed rollout or when he scrambles out of the pocket. His natural arm strength really shines when he throws the ball off base.
- Ability as a runner - While Neal is not a spectacular athlete, he can be surprisingly nimble for a 6-6 player. He also has a good feeling for when to take off. This can be seen best here
- Timing - Neal is a good timing QB, and this is especially evident on his stopping routes and comebacks. Neal starts the pass right on time and the ball is there often before the defender is able to react to the stop and/or comeback. I would like to see him slightly speed up his timing on in and out routes but they are not bad in my opinion, however.
The (not so) Good
As noted in the stats above, Neal had just nine touchdowns and five interceptions in his one year at Vanderbilt, a school that has to play in the SEC but rarely competes in it.
But again, “Hud” from Reddit had a nice breakdown of some of Neal’s biggest challenges:
- Ability to pass vs interior pressure - While Neal has shown a good ability versus pressure from the edge, he is absolutely horrific at times against interior pressure. He makes a lot of panic decisions when there is interior pressure early in the play.
- Passing Footwork - I’m going to start off by saying I’m not a huge footwork guru for QBs, but Riley has a lot of issues in his base, and although it has not affected him yet, a stronger base where he more consistently drives off of his back foot can likely help him place the ball in the chest more and get more power out of him arm.
- Deep ball inconsistency - Neal’s worst accuracy right now comes on his go routes. He has to find more consistency when throwing deep against single man coverage. While he does make some great throws, he also can miss potential touchdowns and passes that an NFL QB cannot afford to miss. Passes like this hurt Neal a lot at times.
- Takes too many hits - While I like the guts shown by Riley, he takes too many uneeded hits. This is especially true when he takes off and runs. Neal has to learn when to slide, and also when the throw the ball away over taking a hit at the LoS for no gain or a very small gain.
- Inconsistency - Neal is a young player and has a lot of inconsistency to him. While he is generally accurate, he can throw some balls that will limit YAC. This is especially present in the intermediate 7-10 yard downfield game, where he can be hot and cold with his placement. The ball is often catchable, however.
Just because it’s interesting
Riley will find a familiar face in Jeudy when he gets to Denver - a player he played against in the SEC but with for the All Star Football Challenge in January.
Introducing the SEC Team for the 2020 @StateFarm All-Star Football Challenge:— AllStar FB Challenge (@AllStarFBall) January 27, 2020
Nick Coe (@AuburnFootball)
Jerry Jeudy (@AlabamaFTBL)
Riley Neal (@VandyFootball)
Terrell Lewis (@AlabamaFTBL) pic.twitter.com/lE4OkOXr5t
Drew Lock is obviously the Broncos’ starting quarterback, so Neal will be competing with third-year journeyman Jeff Driskel and last year’s late-round quarterback addition, Brett Rypien, for a spot somewhere on the roster.
Denver has typically kept three QBs, but usually two on the active roster and one on the practice squad - which was Rypien’s post last year. Neal will be pushing to see whether he’s worth keeping around for at least that PS spot.
While Neal has the size and arm to be a pro quarterback, he’s likely to struggle at the next level given his mediocre performance for a second-tier SEC football program.
What do you think, Broncos Country?
Where will Riley Neal end up by the start of the season?
This poll is closed
Could compete for QB3 and the PS
Another team’s PS probably