Ohio State cornerback Gareon Conley has a first-round skill set. He is a 6-foot-tall 200-pounder who ran the 40-yard dash 4.44 seconds and the Draft Combine, and recorded 91 tackles, defended 15 passes and intercepted six in three years with the Buckeyes.
But, off-the-filed issues put his first-round status in jeopardy.
On April 25, TMZ reported that the 21-year-old had been accused of rape. He vehemently denied these charges, which allegedly took place in Cleveland on April 9, through his attorney, calling the allegations “ludicrous and ridiculous.” As of Thursday, Conley has not been charged or arrested, but the allegations were enough to scare off most suitors.
Not the Oakland Raiders, however, who selected the Massillon, Ohio native in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft, No. 24 overall.
With his legal future unclear, there is little question about his on-the-field abilities.
Conley came into the draft as the No. 6 cornerback available, according to Pro Football Focus (PFF), and the No. 35 overall draftable talent.
The secondary was an issue for the Raiders in 2016. They allowed the ninth-most passing yards per game (257.5) which led to the 13th-worst scoring defense — allowing 24.1 points per game.
Starting corners Sean Smith and David Amerson each went through extended stretches of poor play, but each rebounded nicely to finish twelfth and thirteenth respectively on PFF’s rankings of the league’s top 25 cornerbacks last season. Smith, though, is 29 and will likely leave not be kept beyond his current contract, which expires in 2019 when he will be 31.
Amerson, 25, saw his stock rise in 2016. And with his prime years to come it should be expected that it will continue to do so.
The front-end depth of the Oakland secondary, which also includes two-time Pro-Bowler Reggie Nelson and Karl Joseph will afford Conley, who allowed a pass completion rate of 37 percent, according to Mercury News’ Jimmy Durkin, time to adapt to the NFL game-speed and develop into the a starter opposite Amerson.
That possibility — having a quickly developing Amerson and Conley, who NFL.com projects to be comparable to PFF’s No. 1 corner Aqib Talib, roaming on either side of the secondary — coupled with his assertion of innocence and the passed Polygraph, is what made the Raiders look past the troubling allegations, focusing instead on the man in the pads.