Film Study: Notre Dame CB commit Philip Riley
CB Philip Riley, 6-0, 190; Valrico (Fla.) Bloomingdale
The numbers: Riley recorded 28 tackles and one interception in 12 games as a junior. The Bulls (9-3) lost 20-9 to Armwood (12-2) in the second round of the Florida High School Athletic Association 7A playoffs. Riley plans to enroll early in January.
The rankings: 247Sports — Four stars, No. 14 cornerback, No. 214 overall. Rivals — Four stars, No. 20 cornerback. When Notre Dame offered Riley a scholarship on March 25, 247Sports ranked him as its No. 31 corner and No. 469 overall.
First impression: One word best describes Riley’s game: aggressive. He shines in press coverage, fights off blocks well and launches himself toward the action. The Irish missed on several cornerbacks of Riley’s ilk in previous recruiting classes under former cornerbacks coach Todd Lyght. Riley’s fearless style and approach will be a breath of fresh air for Notre Dame and Lyght’s successor, Mike Mickens.
Strengths: Bloomingdale features Riley in plenty of press-man, the coverage that uses his skills best. He's also respectable in off-man and zone. No matter the defense, top wide receivers find creating separation against Riley difficult. He flashes impressive instincts, technique and physicality. Seldom whiffing on sudden movements at the line of scrimmage or during routes, Riley shows keen route recognition. He’s also capable of decelerating and changing direction in an instant to keep pace with shiftier receivers. On deeper routes, Riley can run stride for stride with speedy receivers.
With his aggressive style, Riley poses as a challenge against the running and passing game. He’s violent with his hands to destruct blocks before making tackles in run support. Quarterbacks have to account for Riley’s vaunted anticipation and ball skills when throwing near him. Against elite competition, Riley elevates his game.
Proof of prowess: (Riley 0:34, 1:51, 3:38): These three plays illustrate Riley’s persistence and physicality. On the first play, the quarterback delivered a catchable jump ball that required his intended receiver to turn his body and leave the ground. Using his right hand, Riley reached around the receiver and scraped the ball out of his hands as he plunged to the ground. Riley uses his length to body receivers and break up passes well. As he demonstrated on the special teams play (1:51), Riley brings a relentless edge to his game. On play No. 3, Riley records a tackle despite having his right arm clutched by a receiver.
(Riley 1:44, 4:23, 4:44): Riley’s wide-ranging cover skills can be seen on these four plays. Play No. 1 exhibits Riley’s prowess in press coverage. Riley immediately recognized the receiver’s outside release and opened his hips to run with him. Operating on the boundary side, Riley used the sideline to advantage to minimize the quarterback’s throwing window. Defending via off-man coverage in 4:23, Riley smoothly transitioned from his backpedal once the receiver cut inside. How undeterred Riley is in 4:44 stood out. The receiver danced around at the beginning of his route, released outside and decelerated to a halt after sprinting five yards. All that receiver's shiftiness resulted in zero separation created between himself and Riley.
Bonus: (Riley 0:00, 0:12, 0:24, 0:45, 1:01, 2:09, 2:16, 4:07): Four-star receivers Arian Smith (2020 Georgia signee), Agiye Hall (2021 Alabama commit) and Greg Gaines (2022) are Riley’s opposition on these eight plays. Riley did more than just hold his own when defending them. He kept all three in check. Riley didn’t need a five-yard cushion from the line of scrimmage. His press coverage skills held up. He stayed to their hip on deeper routes and won some jump-ball battles. Riley battled back from sudden movements and used his length to prevent intermediate completions.
Competition level: Florida consistently produces more Power Five football players than almost any other state. By playing in 7A, the Sunshine State’s second-highest division for high school football, Bloomingdale faces several of these top players annually. The Bulls played a staggering 21 recruits from 2020, 2021 and 2022 combined who were ranked among Florida’s top 247 overall players in their classes, per 247Sports. Hall (Armwood), Gaines (Tampa Bay Tech) and Smith (Lakeland) posed as the biggest threats to Riley.
Gaines caught two passes for 42 yards and a touchdown against Bloomingdale. One of those catches, a 25-yard jump ball grab, came against Riley (Gaines 0:00). He defended Gaines’ deep route well until the end. With Riley at his hip, Gaines created enough space after some hand fighting. Riley seemed to plead with the official to call an offensive pass interference penalty, but Gaines deserves credit for hauling in a difficult 50-50 ball. Riley intercepted a pass on another jump ball opportunity against Gaines (Riley 0:00).
Hall shined in his two games against Bloomingdale, but not at Riley’s expense. He recorded three catches for 98 yards in game one. His biggest play of the game (Hall 0:00) — a deep completion down the middle that resulted in a 50-yard gain — came after what appeared to be a busted coverage from the Bull secondary. Without knowing the coverage responsibilities, it’s difficult to assign blame to Riley or anyone else. Riley did not cover Hall on his other two catches or on his three receptions for 94 yards and a touchdown in game two.
Smith rushed for an 80-yard touchdown after fooling Riley on a misdirection play (Smith 0:00). The quarterback faked a handoff to his running back and handed the football to Smith, who had motioned from left to right on a jet sweep. Riley lost outside containment after biting on the fake handoff, giving Smith the space to run for the score. Smith also recorded a 10-yard reception with Riley in coverage (Smith 0:20). He secured the pass in traffic and maintained possession despite Riley's attempt to rip out the football.
Left to prove: Riley flashes the versatility of one who could play any position in the secondary. He brings the size and technical prowess to play early, too. Not only could Riley have an early impact like junior TaRiq Bracy did, but he also could become Notre Dame’s best corner since Julian Love. Quarterback Tyler Buchner projects to have the best career among Irish commits. Riley has a strong case for No. 2.
A few weaknesses could hold Riley back, though, particularly his seemingly average speed. Sizable improvements in speed can be difficult to achieve at this stage, so Riley will need to compensate by being elite in other areas. The amount of press coverage the Irish demand from their corners will suit Riley well. But his footwork when playing off-man defense can look questionable at times. Rarely does Riley drive through a ball carrier when tackling. Sometimes Riley's tackles require him to use more than one motion, like swinging the opposition around by the ankles. He must gain the strength needed to deliver more punishing hits.