The NFL draft begins on April 27th in Philadelphia and the Redskins have the No. 17 selection in the first round. This is the fifth in a series of stories analyzing 15 players who could be a good fit for Washington at that position.
In a year where red flags have sprouted on a half-dozen top college prospects, Conley is the latest. The Ohio State cornerback, expected to be drafted somewhere in the top 20 of the 2017 NFL draft, has been accused of rape, according to TMZ — which cited a police report in Cleveland.
Conley strongly denied the accusation through his lawyer to a Cleveland television station. .
That will clearly affect Conley’s draft prospects. This has already happened with Florida defensive tackle Caleb Brantley after he was charged last Friday with misdemeanor simple battery for striking a woman during a dispute earlier this month. Brantley was considered a possible first-round selection.
Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon is a first-round talent who likely will slip because of a 2014 incident where he punched a female student in the face. Alabama inside linebacker Reuben Foster and Michigan safety Jabril Peppers were considered to have failed drug tests at the NFL when their urine samples were found “diluted” – and that was after Foster was sent home from the Combine for verbally assaulting a medical technician.
Conley now has far greater concerns than if he’s going to be a high draft pick.
He is part of a growing tradition at Ohio State where the secondary has dubbed itself “Defensive Backs U”. Last year, cornerback Eli Apple (New York Giants) was a first-round pick. This time, Conley, fellow cornerback Marshon Lattimore and safety Malik Hooker are all expected to be first-round selections and all three could be gone by the time the Redskins choose at No. 17.
Last year, safety Vonn Bell (New Orleans Saints) was a second-round pick. Doran Grant (Pittsburgh Steelers) went in the fourth round in 2015. Bradley Roby (Denver Broncos) was a first-round choice in 2014.
It’s been a good run for the Buckeyes. Conley was overshadowed by Lattimore and Hooker, but he’s the one with two years starting under his belt and earned a ton of experience playing as a freshman. He was considered just a step below their level. Now – who knows what will happen? But one day after Redskins director of college scouting Scott Campbell insisted “character matters” in a pre-draft press conference, it’s almost unthinkable Washington would take Conley with its pick at No. 17.
How he fits: The Redskins have Josh Norman and Bashaud Breeland. They took Kendall Fuller in the third round last year, but he never really established himself coming off major knee surgery the year before. Breeland pouted last year when Norman signed and entering his fourth year, Washington could decide to move on from him sooner than later if he doesn’t raise the overall level of his game. Conley is excellent in press coverage and tracks deep balls well.
He has great timing when jumping routes and also was a natural leader in the Ohio State secondary despite two younger players who were earned more praise. There is a need here, but a player facing such an accusation isn’t likely to be the choice. In a ridiculously deep cornerback class, and teams could wait until the second or third round and still get a solid player of similar ability without the serious legal questions.
Questions: There are some scouts who think Conley is strictly a press corner and that he will struggle at the NFL level playing off the ball. Can too often grab when he feels he’s been beat. The Michigan game wasn’t his best. Not a great run-support corner nor an instinctive tackler.
Conley’s take: “I feel all the corners here obviously have talent or we wouldn’t want to be here. I set myself apart mentally. My mental toughness and ability to handle adversity on and off the field sets me apart.”
What they’re saying:
Bucky Brooks, NFL Network:
“He is a solid, dependable blue- collar type corner, a guy that can do all of the things that you look for from a skill set, can press, can play off, is a willing tackler, has ball skills. Those guys have a tendency to play for a long time in the league.”
Daniel Jeremiah, NFL Network
“Conley is a really good player who has plenty of size as well. I think he’s a plug-and-play guy.”
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