Just days ago Gareon Conley was skyrocketing up draft boards. Then sexual assault allegations surfaced that put his draft status in serious doubt.
The allegation centers around an incident that took place on Sunday, April 9 at the Westin in downtown Cleveland. At this point, Conley has not been charged with a crime, and has vehemently denied the allegation.
In the meantime, Conley voluntarily took a polygraph test, which he reportedly passed. The test doesn’t play a role as far as the police are concerned, but it may have helped ease the concerns of some in the NFL.
“I haven’t met with [police] yet,” said Conley. “I’m supposed to be scheduled to meet with them on Monday but I’m very confident that it will be resolved. I took a test today that helps. And when I make my statement and all the evidence that I have, I feel confident that it will be resolved.”
Even still, teams get very leery about such things and it can be considered too big a risk for many teams, especially at the top of the draft. It may have been the only reason he was still available for the Raiders when they made their selection at 24th overall. They weren’t deterred by the allegations and made him their pick.
“We did our due diligence throughout this whole process,” said Reggie McKenzie following the selection.
“The bottom line is we’ve done miles and miles of research to make sure we were totally comfortable with our decision which we were.”
McKenzie said he and Mark Davis discussed the idea of drafting Conley, as they do with most players and they were in agreement.
It was McKenzie who called Conley to notify him the Raiders would be selecting him. Conley said McKenzie told him “He just told me that he was confident that everything would blow over, he was confident in me and he wanted to pick me.”
From here it’s about what kind of player and teammate he will be. Conley’s game performance makes him worthy of a top pick. From there you listen to those who know him best for character references. Del Rio likes what he’s found.
“He’s a football junkie,” said Del Rio. “He loves to compete. Well respected by those I’ve spoken to personally about him. He loves to compete, good teammate and really quality kid. He’s got great length, great speed. Really, really strong workouts throughout the spring and his tape is really good. One of those really clean players that we were fortunate to get our hands on here late in the first round.”
McKenzie discussed the idea of selecting a player with red flags such as Conley in his pre-draft press conference. He took his usual stance about trusting his gut in such situations. With Conley, he says it was about more than just gut.
“I wasn’t just a gut [feeling],” said McKenzie. “It was based on research and we were very confident in all the information that we gathered.”
“As far as I’m concerned he’s the type of corner you look for. It’s hard to get separation from him. He can play the deep ball, he can play press, he’s big, he’s strong, he’s fast. And he understands the game. You can tell he loves the game, the way he plays. Watching his tape, being around, interviewing him, it was no question. We had no questions about his skillset and his ability to play the game.”
As of now, Conley is expected to be the team’s slot corner, but Del Rio noted he has played mostly on the outside and will be given the opportunity to compete and earn a larger role on the team.
If the feeling of McKenzie and Del Rio turns out to be correct, and should the allegations never materialize into charges, this is could be a very strong pick for the Raiders. But the risk is there until that time.