Raiders Select Gareon Conley in 2017 NFL Draft amid Controversy

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistApril 28, 2017

COLUMBUS, OH - OCTOBER 01: Gareon Conley #8 of the Ohio State Buckeyes in action against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights during the game at Ohio Stadium on October 1, 2016 in Columbus, Ohio. The Buckeyes defeated the Scarlet Knights 58-0. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

The Oakland Raiders selected Ohio State Buckeyes cornerback Gareon Conley with the 24th overall pick of the 2017 NFL draft. 

Conley is one of three Buckeyes defensive backs to hear their name called on the first night of the draft. Malik Hooker went No. 15 overall to the Indianapolis Colts, and Marshon Lattimore was off the board with the 11th pick to the New Orleans Saints.

Two days before the draft, TMZ Sports reported a woman in Cleveland filed a police report alleging Conley sexually assaulted her. Conley denied the accusation, per ESPN.com:

The things being said about me and what happened that night are not true and don't fit my character at all. I realize that I put myself in the situation and I could have used better judgment. However, I have worked tirelessly to put myself in position to have the honor of being an NFL draft pick and these untrue allegations are putting a huge cloud over my name and the NFL draft.

ESPN's Adam Schefter reported no fewer than 24 NFL teams had spoken with Conley about the allegations.

Conley was a two-year starter for Ohio State. After collecting 49 total tackles and intercepting two passes as a sophomore in 2015, he had 26 total tackles and four interceptions in 2016. None of the four interceptions was more important than his pick in the Buckeyes' 17-16 win over the Michigan State Spartans.

Other notable media members tweeted regarding the selection:

In analyzing this year's group of cornerbacks, Bleacher Report's Matt Miller ranked Conley as the third-best player at his position, behind Florida Gators star Quincy Wilson and Lattimore. Miller compared Conley to Stephon Gilmore and wrote the Buckeyes corner has a bright career ahead at the next level:

Conley has the speed to run with receivers all over the field. He's lower-body explosive and does a great job attacking the ball in the air. He'll go up and challenge 50-50 balls with ideal length and leaping ability. His football IQ, timing and instincts are pro-level polished. His 6.68-second three-cone drill is an elite showing that represents awesome balance, burst and body control. Conley is a Day 1 starter at outside cornerback. He has all the tools of a future Pro Bowler.

Pro Football Focus drew a parallel between Conley and another former Ohio State defender, Bradley Roby. While praising Conley's coverage abilities, PFF argued he needs to improve as a tackler.

In an interview with ESPN.com's Josh Weinfuss, Conley acknowledged his tackling is an issue.

"I feel that just makes me look like I’m lacking in the run game, obviously," he said. "I just need to improve on my tackling."

Brett Fischer, who runs the performance center where Conley has been working out in preparation for the draft, added that becoming a better run defender has been a focus of Conley's training.

The fact Conley is proactively addressing one of his deficiencies as a player should hearten Oakland's front office. Conley won't become a great tackler by the start of the regular season, but he should gradually get better each and every week.

The concern around Conley focuses almost strictly on off-field issues.

Conley's attorney, Kevin Spellacy, told Cleveland.com's Adam Ferrise the incoming rookie will submit his DNA to Cleveland police and give an interview to authorities Monday. 

The ongoing investigation into the accusations against Conley will be a cloud over both he and the Raiders until his legal situation is resolved. Taking a player who is alleged to have committed sexual assault is risky in any round of the draft. Using a first-rounder on Conley heightens that risk even more.

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