Oakland Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie said his staff did extensive research on Gareon Conley before using the 24th overall pick in the draft on the talented but embattled Ohio State cornerback who has been accused of rape.
“We did our due diligence throughout this whole process and we trust our research, the reports, everything that we have on Mr. Conley,” McKenzie said. “I don’t want to get into all the details but 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.”
Conley said he took a polygraph test earlier Thursday and is scheduled to meet with police Monday.
“I’m very confident that it will be resolved,” Conley told reporters during a conference call after the first round of the draft. “I took a test today that helps, and when I make my statement and with all the evidence that I have, I feel confident that it will be resolved.”
McKenzie said that Conley was “hands down” the best available player when Oakland went on the clock. Coach Jack Del Rio called it a happy moment for the Raiders organization.
Conley, 21, seemed like a lock to be selected early in the first round until earlier this week, when it was revealed that he had been accused of sexually assaulting a woman in Cleveland.
He has called the allegations “completely false” and no charges have been filed as police investigate. Conley was named in a police report that details the allegations but no information has been forwarded to prosecutors.
“It’s been real emotional but I got through it,” Conley said. “I just kept my faith strong and kept listening to my mom, my agent and my support and kept my head on straight.”
McKenzie sounded confident the situation will be resolved.
“The research was done,” McKenzie said. “It wasn’t just a gut (feeling). It was based on research. We are very confident in the information that we gathered.”
An attorney for Conley has said that his client was willing to meet with detectives and agreed to give a DNA sample to counter the sexual assault claims.
Despite obvious needs at defensive tackle and middle linebacker, McKenzie and Del Rio instead opted for a talented player who was projected to be a top 15 pick before his stock took a hit.
“A really talented corner that’s capable of playing man or zone,” Del Rio said. “Been well-respected by the people that I’ve spoken to personally about him. A guy that loves to compete, good teammate and really a quality kid. He’s got great length, great speed. One of those really clean players that we were fortunate to get our hands on late in the first round.”
Conley started every game over the past two years at Ohio State and allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete just 37 percent of their throws in his direction. The 6-foot, 195-pound junior had six interceptions in three seasons including four in 2016 while playing almost strictly on the outside.
The pick addresses Oakland’s lack of depth in the secondary. Starters Sean Smith and David Amerson had up-and-down years in 2016 and the Raiders don’t have much behind them. Oakland also has a hole to fill in the slot after declining to pick up the option year on DJ Hayden’s contract this offseason.
Smith struggled in his first season with the Raiders and could be expendable depending on how quickly Conley adjusts to the pro level. Smith, who was benched in Week 1 and was a constant target on the NFL’s 24th-ranked pass defense, is due to earn $5 million in base salary in 2017 and could make another $4.25 million as a roster bonus.
Hayden was the last cornerback the Raiders drafted in the first round and the very first first-round pick made by McKenzie after becoming general manager. Hayden was the 12th overall pick in 2013 but was hindered by injuries and missed 19 games over four seasons in Oakland before the team cut ties with him this offseason.