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Raiders new DC Paul Guenther very familiar with Gareon Conley, was his favorite corner in last year’s draft

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NCAA Football: Ohio State at Wisconsin Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

The perception of the Raiders is most of their toys and weapons are on the offensive side of the ball. That may be true, but the defense has some tools with which to work as well. Some of which we’ve barely even seen yet.

Last year’s top pick, Gareon Conley, is one such weapon. He was lost to a shin injury in June minicamps that had him out all of training camp and preseason. Then he aggravated it after two games back and his rookie season was done as it had barely begun.

Conley had some impressive numbers coming out of Ohio State last year. Most impressive was he held opposing quarterbacks to a passer rating of 13.6. That’s downright unbelievable.

Raiders new Defensive Coordinator coached in Cincinnati, right up the road from Columbus where Conley was playing his games. He got some good looks at the kind of prospect Conley was and came away with a very high opinion of him.

“We’re not too far from Ohio State, so we drove up there and had plenty of guys coming out but he was probably my favorite corner coming out last year,” Guenther said of Conley Wednesday over conference call. “We didn’t take one because we took one the year before but he was my favorite corner coming out. His ability, he’s smooth in the pedal, he’s a good press corner, which we love to have. I’m excited to work with him.”

That’s especially high praise considering fellow Ohio State cornerback Marshon Lattimore was selected at 11th overall and was recently named the PFWA Defensive Rookie of the Year. Guenther really liked Conley more than Lattimore? Ok.

Most draft gurus had Conley as a potential top ten pick until allegations of sexual assault cropped up. Those allegations never yielded any charges, but the fear they might may have scared some teams away and caused Conley to drop to the Raiders at 24 overall.

For what it’s worth, Guenther also said he likes what he’s seen from Melifonwu, though his praise was not nearly on the gushing level he reserved for Conley.

“I really like both of them when I evaluated,” Guenther said of Conley and Melifonwu.

“Obi is a big guy that when you turn on the tape, you’re like, ‘Man, who is this son of a gun?’ He’s playing half field, he’s down in the box playing the run.”

Mainly, he focused on the best ability being availability, considering Conley missed 14 games and Melifonwu appeared in just five games and was placed on on injured reserve twice.

“We just need to get these guys out on the grass and keep them healthy and teach them the system,” Guenther continued. “I always tell these guys, you don’t help us when you’re in the training room for ten weeks out of the season. You’re not helping the team. I am going to tell the trainers to turn the temperature down to about 60 degrees in the training room this year so we can keep them guys out of there.”

The Raiders secondary was a mess most of the season. They really could’ve used Conley on the field. Melifonwu’s role was to be that of a situational hybrid linebacker safety. Next season they could have bigger plans for him.