If you’re looking for a developmental project worth investing into on Day 3, Vanderbilt’s Riley Neal has all the tools to be this year’s best value at the game’s most important position.
Neal recently spoke exclusively with MCM about his experience as a one-year player at Vanderbilt, why he loves the pressure that comes with his position, and what kind of skill set he brings to the level.
JM: You’ve had a lot of time to reflect on your transfer from Ball State to Vanderbilt. How do you look back on that move now?
RN: It had it’s ups and downs. I had some good moments and some not so good moments. Overall, it was a very good experience for me. I don’t have any regrets. It was a good year for me and my life.
JM: What can you tell me about the system that Vanderbilt ran on offense this past season?
RN: We ran a pro-style offense. A lot of the verbiage that we had, the way that we designed things and called plays, it was very similar to what you’re seeing in the NFL nowadays. It definitely helped me prepare for what’s next.
JM: Which areas of your game would you say improved the most throughout your single season at Vanderbilt?
RN: I really learned a lot about how to watch film this past season. My overall understanding of defenses and their systems really took a step forward this past year. I felt a lot more comfortable checking the protections at the line of scrimmage and what not. I felt more comfortable changing a play-call based on what I was seeing pre-snap. A lot of that stuff started to come together for me.
JM: Speaking of, what were some of the responsibilities that Vanderbilt gave you at the line of scrimmage? Did you have a lot of freedom?
RN: We had a lot of checks in the run game. I was able to flip a play from one way to the other. I had some freedom with the protections as well. We did a lot of stuff. I had the freedom to kill or change a play completely. It really depended on the looks we were getting from the defense.
JM: What are three traits that make a successful quarterback?
RN: Work ethic, accountability and overall skill-set are the three factors that really stick out to me.
JM: As a quarterback, how do you balance playing aggressively with just taking what the defense gives you?
RN: Every situation is a little different. I don’t think there’s a cut-and-dry answer to that. It depends on the situation. That’s why situational awareness is so important when it comes to playing the quarterback position. What down and distance are we in? What’s the play call? There’s so much that goes into that.
JM: Fair enough. Trust between a quarterback and his pass catchers are key to the success of an offense. How do you build that?
RN: That’s partially what the off-season is for. That trust and bond with your pass catchers has to be created during the off-season. Don’t underestimate the value of just hanging out with those guys. It doesn’t always have to involve a football. It’s all about building relationships that can translate over to the field.
JM: How has this predraft process been going for you? Did you get a chance to make any in-person meetings or has everything been virtual for you?
RN: Pretty much everything has been virtual for me. My Pro Day was canceled. I filmed a throwing session and we used that as a mock Pro Day so to speak. We sent that out to all 32 teams. I was supposed to go to the Titans and Colts local days. I qualified for both because I’m from Indiana and went to school in Tennessee. A lot of teams have reached out and touched base with me. They’ve asked me for my medical records and what not. They’ve asked me how I’m continuing to work through all this. It’s been a fun, unique process. I’ve been in touch with a lot of teams.
JM: That’s great news. If you were going to war tomorrow and could only bring one Vanderbilt teammate with you, who would you bring and why?
RN: I would probably go with Frank Coppet. I’ve only known Frank for a year but he played through some things for us. He’s a tough guy. He had some serious injuries this past season. He had an issue with his knee, he broke his wrist. He was dealing with all kinds of stuff yet he still managed to play a ton of games for us. In my short time there, Frank really stood out.
JM: I’ve appreciated your time today, Riley. Why should an NFL team use one of their draft picks on Riley Neal?
RN: Riley Neal is gonna come in every day ready to work. I’m gonna put my best foot forward. I’m happy to contribute in whatever role you could find for me.