When the New England Patriots cut their roster from 90 to the league-mandated 80 ahead of training camp, the group of released included seven undrafted rookies — among them wide receiver Sean Riley. While the Syracuse product remained on the open market ever since being let go, there is a chance that he could soon find a new home by possibly returning to his old one: the Patriots have an eye on Riley as a practice squad candidate.
Riley recently returned to New England for a free agency workout, as first reported by ESPN’s Mike Reiss, and if all goes well could be added to the developmental roster once the Patriots are allowed to build theirs beginning Sunday at 1 pm. Given the current circumstances, the league has allowed for 16 players to make the practice squad this year — the rookie wideout could fill one of them.
Riley, as noted above, arrived in New England after going unselected during the NFL’s draft in late April. One of four rookie free agents to be signed by the club — Jeff Thomas and Isaiah Zuber are still with the club as of Saturday morning, Will Hastings was waived last week — he faced naturally long odds to make the team but did and still does provide upside as a return specialist.
While he did not see regular action as pass catcher until his junior season at Syracuse, he made an impact in the kicking game right away: Riley led the NCAA in kickoff return yardage as a true freshman in 2016 with 1,095 yards — a sign of things to come. All in all, he ended his four-year college career with a combined 2,433 yards gained on 115 kickoff returns. Riley also ran back 50 punts for 563 yards and a touchdown during his time with the Orange, and furthermore blocked two punts.
His special teams prowess will not help him make the Patriots’ 53-man roster to start the regular season, but it could factor in the team’s decision to bring him back via the practice squad — something that can also be said about his potential role as a depth slot or Z-receiver: after earning a starting role in Syracuse’s offense in 2018, he combined to catch 100 passes for 1,031 yards and four scores over his final two seasons in college.
The Patriots possibly bringing back Riley via their practice squad would therefore help them bolster the depth at two positions, and also allow them to develop the 22-year-old behind the scenes.