NFL Scouting Combine Star Chris Conley Is More Than Just a Great Athlete

Dan Hope@Dan_HopeContributor IIIApril 5, 2015

As Chris Conley moves forward to the NFL, the former Georgia wide receiver wants to make a name for himself both on and off the field.
As Chris Conley moves forward to the NFL, the former Georgia wide receiver wants to make a name for himself both on and off the field.David Goldman/Associated Press

By posting a 4.35-second 40-yard dash, 45" vertical jump and 11'7" broad jump, Chris Conley was one of the stars of the 2015 NFL Scouting Combine. But the Georgia wide receiver and prospect for the upcoming NFL draft wants people to know that he is more than just a great athlete, and for that matter, more than just a great football player.

Conley had a solid collegiate career at Georgia, where he caught 117 passes for 1,938 yards and 20 touchdowns over four years, but he never received much attention as a draft prospect until posting spectacular numbers—including the best vertical jump among all combine participants—in Indianapolis on February 21.

It’s fair to say that Conley’s measurables are more impressive than his collegiate production, and it’s fair to question whether or not his spectacular physical traits consistently showed up on the field at Georgia. That said, Conley expects NFL teams will “go back and look at the tape one more time and see that I have the ability to make plays.”

“On that film, you’ll see that I’m doing a massive duty,” Conley told Bleacher Report. “I’ll get down in the trenches and block, I’ll run down the field and catch passes and just that I’m ready to help a team, help a team in whatever way they need.

“Those workouts were able to show that I am the kind of athlete that they’re looking for, and now it’s my job to continue to work to get better so I can have the complete and total football package that they’re looking for."

As is illustrated by his achievements in the classroom, the community and his own off-field projects, Conley’s life aspirations stretch well beyond the football field. With less than four weeks to go until this year’s draft, however, his focus at present is on proving himself as a professional football player and not just as a workout warrior.

David Stephenson/Associated Press

On the Field

One of the four fastest wide receivers at this year’s combine, Conley also has the size that teams covet at his position, at 6’2” and 213 pounds.

Even though he never had outstanding statistics at Georgia, Conley was a key factor in the Bulldogs offense; he led the team in receiving yards in each of his final two collegiate seasons.

As Bleacher Report NFL Draft Analyst Brent Sobleski explained, Conley’s humdrum production was as much a result of Georgia’s run-heavy offensive scheme as it was any deficiency on the wide receiver’s part.

“I believe there is somewhat of a misconception that he's purely a workout warrior when he actually led Georgia in receiving yards last year,” Sobleski said. “Yes, he's a tremendous athlete, but he also is an experienced route-runner in a pro-style scheme.”

The Bulldogs threw the ball just 322 times last season, while they ran it 555 times. This limited Conley’s opportunities to put up big numbers; however, although he caught only 36 passes, he still posted career highs with 657 receiving yards and eight touchdowns.

And while he had fewer receptions in 13 games as a senior than the 45 catches he had in 11 games as a junior, Conley “never griped or complained about his role,” according to his former offensive coordinator, Mike Bobo.

He’s not a selfish guy,” Bobo, who is now the head coach at Colorado State after 14 years at Georgia, said of Conley. “He’s a guy who is going to do whatever’s asked for him. If it was blocking on a run play for Todd Gurley or a screen play for Todd Gurley or Nick Chubb, he did whatever was asked, and then when the ball came his way, he usually made the play.”

As evidenced by his 20 scoring plays at Georgia, Conley can make impact plays, like the 36-yard deep touchdown catch from Georgia’s win against Arkansas this past season (watch No. 31 at top of screen):

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His size in the red zone and body control can be an asset, like it was on the following four-yard scoring catch in a victory versus Kentucky in 2014:

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On occasion, Conley has created spectacular highlights, like the following touchdown grab against Charleston Southern in November:

Conley believes he has “an ability to stretch the field and that, coupled with some size and some length, can be pretty dangerous.”

“Speed is something that’s not continually coachable, it’s something that you either have or you don’t,” Conley said of his athleticism. “And that’s just something that I’ve been working on and trying to put together as part of the package.”

There’s no debating that what makes Conley a potentially special player at the next level is his combination of size and speed. What he thinks will ultimately enable him to succeed, however, is giving consistent effort.

“I like to think that I’m a guy who’s going to give everything that he’s got and do everything to the best of his ability,” Conley said.

Bobo told Bleacher Report Conley’s three best qualities are his work ethic, his straight-line speed and that he is “extremely smart.”

There are still areas in which Conley must work to continue improving his game.

Sobleski believes Conley has “lots of natural talent that was never fully realized in Athens.”

“He struggles off the line, and his speed is built up after a few strides,” Sobleski said. “He's not necessarily explosive off the snap. Also, he can be bullied a bit by more physical defensive backs.”

Bobo thinks Conley needs to improve his short-area quickness.

He’s got great straight-line speed but [needs to] continue to work against press man and being able to work in the small area,” Bobo said. “I do not doubt his ability to improve because every year he’s improved as a receiver and as a player for us.

“I think he’ll play a long time in the NFL because he’s always improving, and nobody’s going to outwork this kid.” 

Conley agrees that he must continually work toward refining his skill set.

I don’t think you ever reach a point where you make it as a football player,” Conley said. “I think there’s always things that you can add to your game, tools that you can sharpen and ways that you can become a more complete player."

This spring, Conley has been focusing on improving his footwork. 

“Being a guy who’s extremely tall, you got to continue to work on your footwork and flexibility so that you can get your pads down, get in and out of breaks," Conley said. "You’re cutting and running with guys who are sometimes four or five inches shorter than you, a lot lower to the ground, but you have to have that same ankle and hip flexibility and ability to change directions.”

With the draft set to begin April 30, Conley’s draft preparation is mostly complete. While he still has multiple visits to NFL team facilities remaining on his schedule, his major opportunities to showcase his football skills—his collegiate career, the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, the combine and Georgia’s pro day—are now behind him.

That’s not to say he can sit back and relax, however. Regardless of which team drafts him, Conley will have to report to his first minicamp less than one month after the draft.

“You don’t know where it’s going to be, you don’t know where you’re going to get picked but you know at some point, you’re going to be playing football very soon, so you need to be in shape and be ready for it,” Conley said.

In his post-combine big board update, Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller ranked Conley as the 20th-best wide receiver in this year’s draft class and as the No. 143 prospect overall, which would slot him as a fifth-round pick.

Some other predictions are more generous: NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein projects Conley to be a second- or third-round pick, while CBSSports.com ranks him as a fourth-round pick at No. 122 overall.

 

Off the Field

While Conley may not have received many accolades at Georgia for his play on the field, he earned no shortage of awards for his work off the field during his time as a student-athlete.

A first-team finalist for the 2014 Senior CLASS Award, Conley was also named the Southeastern Conference’s Scholar-Athlete of the Year in football this past season. According to his profile on the Senior CLASS Award’s website, Conley sported a 3.32 cumulative GPA at Georgia and received his bachelor’s degree in journalism in December.

With the Bulldogs football team, Conley was also a leader. According to Georgia’s official athletics website, he was a two-year team captain and a recipient of the UGA Coaches Leadership Award.

“He’s a guy who does not mind being vocal, does not mind speaking out,” Bobo said. “He was all about the team, and all about the University of Georgia, and I think that was the No. 1 reason that he was an effective leader for us."

Conley’s leadership also extended beyond Georgia to a national level, as he served a two-year term as the SEC’s representative on the NCAA’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee.

Another area in which Conley has made an impact is in his local community. At the Atlanta Sports Awards in March, he received the Community Spirit Award, becoming the first collegiate athlete to ever win that award, according to GeorgiaDogs.com.

While Conley will soon be leaving Athens to play for an NFL team, he has continued to work toward making a difference in the city. He is organizing a T-shirt sale and autograph signing at Big Frog in Athens on April 25, from which a portion of the proceeds will go to Athens Area Homeless Shelter.

There’s always been a part of me that has wanted to give back in any way, because when you give back, it’s more beneficial to you than it is to the people you’re giving to,” Conley said. “It’s a lesson in humility, in patience and ultimately, you’re going to need someone someday to help you out.” 

On top of his academic, athletic and charitable work, Conley somehow also found the time between November 2013 and July 2014 to write and direct Retribution, a 26-minute Star Wars fan film that has amassed more than 483,000 views on YouTube:

“It was something that I came about doing just because I had thought about it for a while, and at that point, I was thinking why continue to think about it, why not just do it?” Conley said. “So I sat down, started hashing out a plan on paper, putting people together and it kind of grew and evolved in each stage. As people were added, we got better and more ideas and eventually once we started shooting, Retribution is what we came out with.”

Conley, who also acted in the film as villain Khari Vion, said he hopes to pursue a career in film after his NFL days are over.

“Everybody has to have a plan for when football ends, and that’s one I want to hold onto,” Conley said.

Grayson Holt, who did editing and visual effects for Retribution, said Conley is “one of the hardest-working people I think I’ve ever met.”

“I don’t know when the guy sleeps,” Holt, who is also a student at Georgia, said. “He works just as hard as a student-athlete and just as hard as a regular student, just going to classes, and just as hard as someone who wanted to just go make a movie in their free time as well.”

Conley acknowledged that balancing so many commitments at once could be tough.

“Sometimes you have to make sacrifices and you have to do the best with what you have,” Conley said. “You might not have as much time as some of your counterparts in your classroom, you might not be in good situations for you to study or write papers or complete projects and you have to find a way, is really, really what it is.

“It teaches you a lot of life skills about finishing, about doing your best, being creative and having a will to win,” Conley added. “It’s kind of like in your sport, finding a way to get the job done; that’s really what college can be like for a student-athlete sometimes.”

Conley expects those life skills to serve him well as he takes the next step from a hectic collegiate experience to being a professional athlete.

So much is asked of you with professionalism and time management,” Conley said of the NFL. “The people who manage their time well and they’re professionals about the way that they approach the game tend to have a lot of success, because you don’t get to the league if you’re not athletic enough.”

David Stephenson/Associated Press

“A Genuinely Good Person”

When a player on a football team succeeds in so many areas like Conley does, it can sometimes rub teammates the wrong way, Bobo noted. But the coach never saw that as an issue for Conley, because he had the respect of his comrades.

“They respected the fact that every day, Chris Conley came to work,” Bobo said. “You could never turn on the film and see Chris Conley loafing or not giving effort for his teammates, because he was an unselfish player. He may not have caught 80 balls, but he was always giving effort down the field blocking.”

Similarly, Conley was respected and well-liked by those who helped him create Retribution, according to Holt.

“He’s just got this kind of energy that exudes from him; I find it hard to believe given how much practice he does and how exhausted I’m sure he always is from football.” Holt said. “He’s just a really lively guy.”

Despite how busy he keeps himself, Conley is always willing to make time for others, Bobo said.

“It didn’t matter if it was my kids, my wife, my babysitter...recruits, recruits’ parents, Chris wouldn’t come talk to them because we asked him to...he came to talk to those people because he’s a genuinely good person,” Bobo said.

Asked to describe what Conley is like as a person off the field, Bobo recalled one of the first occasions he spent time with Conley, when he and another new Georgia player at the time, Christian LeMay (a quarterback who now plays at Jacksonville State), went to Bobo’s house for dinner.

“Chris stayed there probably three hours after we ate to play Star Wars with my kids, not because I asked him to, just because he was having a good time, and he’s a good person,” Bobo said.

Those personality traits are among the reasons that Bobo thinks NFL teams should covet Conley.

“In any kind of business—and obviously the NFL’s a business—you want to surround yourself with good people who are talented,” Bobo said. “He’s talented, and he’s a great person.”

 

Conley’s Goals for His Career(s)

Conley’s primary goal for his NFL career is to become known for consistency.

“Establish myself as someone who’s going to get the job done, whatever it is that I’m asked to do,” Conley said. “If I’m asked to play offense to play it to the best of my ability and be consistent, be a playmaker. If I’m asked to come in and make plays on special teams, be lights out on special teams and be someone that the club can count on.”

Much like during his time at Georgia, however, Conley wants to continue to be more than just a football player.

Conley said he thinks it is “extremely important” for NFL players to have other opportunities in addition to playing football.

“Even if you go into the league and have a 10-year career, you get out of the NFL and you’re 32 or 33, you have your whole life ahead of you,” Conley explained. “You can have a 15-year career in the NFL and you’ll still be in your 30s when you get out, and I don’t think people realize that. That’s a long time, you still have lots of time left to live.”

Knowing that a football career is not forever was one of the reasons Conley took his academics seriously at Georgia and involved himself in more than just playing his sport.

“In order to find something to do in this world today, you have to have that degree, you have to have been taking your studies seriously,” he said.

Whatever second career Conley might end up pursuing will be placed on the back burner, at least for now, as he tries to get his foothold in the NFL.

Nonetheless, he wants others to recognize that he and his football-playing peers are “people just like everyone else.”

“This is kind of our first career path out of college,” Conley said. “Many people are doing their interviews and internships and preparing for a career; we spend the same amount of time if not more time preparing for this career. I don’t think people understand the commitment that some of these guys have to this sport, playing it to the best of their ability.

“We’re normal people,” Conley added. “We do things just like everyone else. It’s just on Saturdays and now Sundays, we get to be something pretty cool.”

All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All GIFs were made at Gfycat using videos from Draft Breakdown.

Dan Hope is an NFL/NFL Draft Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.

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