For reasons beyond his control, Raiders fans and cornerback Gareon Conley’s fans have had their emotions played with up to now. He was arguably the best CB in the 2017 NFL Draft but we didn’t even know if he would play because of rape accusations.
So Raider Nation sighed in relief once it was determined nothing would come of them. Then he had a shin injury that held up the start of his season until week 2 of last season against the New York Jets. In that game, he was everything Raider Nation wanted him to be but soon after, he would succumb to that same shin injury and get shut down for the season.
Then comes this offseason and the hype on Conley is back.
“Yeah, it’s great to see Conley out there. We’re counting on him. We need him.” Gruden said after an OTA session. “Conley is special. He’s a top pick in this draft for a reason. I think from a confidence standpoint, he needs to get some work in out here.”
Our own Levi Damien noted how good Conley looked in the first OTA practice, adding that a coach was even raving about him to the other defensive backs.
Gareon Conley is finally healthy and looks quite impressive. He was shadowing receivers all over the field. At one point a cornerbacks coach came over to the defensive backs on the sideline nearby and was raving about what Conley was doing on the field as if to say ‘You see what he did right there? That’s how you do it’ (I’m paraphrasing).
Then there’s NFL.com which has him as one of their top-5 breakout players for 2018.
The Raiders have struggled at the cornerback spot for quite a while now, but Conley will bring not only speed and length, but legitimate man-cover talent. Conley’s former Ohio State teammate, Marshon Lattimore, showed an ability to adapt quickly to the NFL game last season, and Conley could follow suit with a healthy second season.
We can go back to what Conley did at Ohio State in 2016, giving up a quarterback rating of 14.0 into his coverage according to Pro Football Focus. Lattimore, gave up a rating of 30.2 into his coverage in 2016 and you see what he came out and did as a rookie with the New Orleans Saints, giving up a rating of just 45.3.
With all the CB’s Ohio State has put in the NFL lately, it’s easy to see they are taught well.
You may not think you can judge football players without pads but the CB position is different. If anything, CBs are tested even more in OTA’s because the quarterbacks throwing at them aren’t under any pressure. You can see a CB’s length, speed, hips and feet. Plus covering receivers down the field is a skill that requires minimal contact. Giving the hype more substance than, say, the hype surrounding running back Doug Martin.
Editor’s note: Levi Damien contributed to this article.