Getting to know Raiders first round pick Gareon Conley

Gareon Conley was born on June 29, 2020 in Massillon, Ohio. Conley attended Massillon Washington High School in Massillon, playing cornerback, wide receiver and kick returner.  Amazingly, this football acumen didn’t reveal itself until Conley’s sophomore year.  His first love was basketball and several college basketball programs were already scouting him for their respective universities.  However, during his sophomore season he was convinced by then Massillon head coach Jason Hall to play football.  Conley was a “do it all” kind of player, with both speed and football instincts that you just can’t teach or acquire from training.  Conley was so good that he ultimately was compared to fellow Ohioan Charles Woodson as a high schooler.  At the time, Jason Hall told ESPN “We need him on the field; we don’t ever want Gareon off the field, especially in our big games.”

Conley almost followed Woodson to Michigan by signing a commitment sheet to the university but he later changed to rival Ohio State University instead.  As a senior, he made 25 tackles, 13 pass breakups and an interception on defense.  Despite teams avoiding throwing passes his way, Conley still recovered two fumbles and returned an interception for a score.  On offense, Conley recorded 50 receptions for 1,096 yards and 16 touchdowns.  By the end of his senior season he was ranked by ESPN as the ninth best cornerback in the nation.  Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer took notice of this young man and Meyer was able to convince Conley to de-commit from Michigan and turn his allegiance to The Ohio State University.  

Meyer later said “We thought highly of him and I remember he played his tail off his senior year. I went and watched him actually practice basketball. That’s when I was like, ‘This is a crazy athlete. ”

Urban Meyer is no fool.  He has been the most successful collegiate head coach since 2000 and it is no surprise that Conley changed his allegiance.  During his senior season at Ohio State, Conley reflected back on his decision as a young man to choose Ohio State over Michigan, a decision akin to a person committed to the Denver Broncos picking the Raiders instead.  “It was a magnificent decision,” Conley said. “Obviously, two years ago we won a championship and last year we had a good season. Overall, the teams I’ve been a part of and the brotherhood we experience is great.”

Wisely, Urban Meyer redshirted Conley for what would have been his freshman season in 2013.  The freshmen needed to put on both muscle and weight.  Furthermore, he needed to adjust to the collegiate game before he could strap on the famed Ohio State scarlet and gray colors.  By the start of the 2014 collegiate season he was ready to take the field for the first time as a reserve defensive back but the start of his career at Ohio State was almost derailed.  The former four-star cornerback prospect made his first start against Michigan State on the road but after he gave up two early catches for 69 yards and a touchdown to Keith Mumphery, the redshirt freshman was pulled in favor of Eli Apple – the injured player he started in place of.  Conley rebounded, displaying the mental toughness and athletic ability that had attracted both Michigan and Ohio State to have recruited him in the first place.

Conley played in all 15 games for the Buckeyes; he recorded 386 total plays on the field which included 160 snaps at cornerback.  He finished the season with 16 tackles and two pass breakups, helping Ohio State end the season as the 2014 College Football Playoff national champions.

Urban Meyer elevated Conley as one of his starting cornerbacks for the 2015 season and a terror was unleashed.  Conley started all 13 games at cornerback and earned honorable mention all-Big Ten Conference honors.  He recorded two interceptions and at the end of the season he ranked eighth on the team in tackles with 49.  Al Davis once lauded that “great players make big plays in big games” and Conley was one of those guys.  During the season he blocked a key punt versus Rutgers and stood out in Ohio State’s biggest games, with a career-high (and team-best) eight tackles vs. Virginia Tech, seven vs. Penn State, five solo tackles vs. Michigan and a career-high (and team-best) seven solo stops against Notre Dame.

As a junior in 2016, Gareon Conley was made a team captain and he made even more big plays for the Buckeyes.  Against Michigan State he made a game-clinching interception late in the fourth quarter and he recorded key interceptions in wins over Tulsa and Indiana.  During his final game as a Buckeye, he made six tackles and one interception during the Buckeyes loss to Clemson in the 2016 Fiesta Bowl.   Overall he finished 2016 with 26 tackles and four interceptions, one of which he returned for a touchdown, His performance landed him as an All-Big Ten second team pick by the coaches and a third team selection by the media.

Conley’s career collegiate statistics as a Buckeye read as:

  • Played in 42 games for the Buckeyes and started 27 games at cornerback
  • Started every game for the Buckeyes during the past two seasons.
  • 91 career tackles
  • 0.5 sacks
  • 6 interceptions
  • 15 pass breakups

After the season, Conley decided to forgo his senior year and enter the 2017 NFL Draft.  The Oakland Raiders selected Conley with the 24th overall pick, joining Jack Tatum as the second Ohio State defensive back every drafted by the Raiders in the first round.  Overall, Conley is just the tenth Buckeye ever drafted by the franchise and the fourth ever to be taken by the Raiders in the first round.  At this point it is too early to tell but it is likely that he will start the season as a reserve behind starting Raider cornerbacks Sean Smith and David Amerson.  “We expect him to come in and compete,” Head coach Jack Del Rio stated. “We think he’s a highly skilled player and he’s got the potential to be one of our better corners.”

“He’s a football junkie and he loves to compete,” Del Rio added.

Raiders General Manage Reggie McKenzie was excited to add Conley to the roster following the Raider dismal 2016 performance on defense which witnessed them allowing 61 completions of 20 or more, most of any team in the NFL.

“He’s the type of corner you look for,” McKenzie said. “It’s hard to get separation from him. He can play the deep ball. He can play press. He’s big. He’s strong. He’s fast. And he understands the game and you can tell he loves the game by the way he plays.”  McKenzie added that after interviewing Conley he felt that he “had no question about his skill set and his ability to play the game” and that the Raiders organization feels “real good about this, about the pick.”

After being picked the newest Raider was interviewed by and he was quoted as saying “It’s an honor to be a part of the Raider organization.”

Gareon Conley has had success at all levels of football so far in his life.  As a captain and as a leader of one of the nation’s most successful football programs at both the high school and collegiate levels he is a talented player and a team leader who leads by example.

Al Davis once said that “the greatness of the Raiders is in its future.”

Gareon Conley will be a big part of that future.

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