Ever since the Oakland Raiders selected Gareon Conley in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft, talk about the rookie has been focused on the accusations of rape that became public just days before the draft started. But now that a grand jury has chosen not to indict the young corner, we can finally start talking about what Conley means to the Raiders ON the field as opposed to discussing whether he will be a distraction OFF the field.
And of course, the first thing that comes to mind is the expectation level for the newest first round pick of the Raiders.
There are always high expectations attached to first round picks. If you’re taken in the first round, the general expectation is that you will be a major contributor right away. Of course, there are times when you take a player with the intent on sitting him, like the Kansas City Chiefs did with Patrick Mahomes, but for the most part, a first rounder is expected to play, and have an impact, in year one.
Now, the level of impact that can be expected will vary depending on where a player is taken in the first round. For example, you wouldn’t expect the same rookie value out of the 31st pick in the first round as you would the first pick.
But of course, expectations are not always tied to draft position and Gareon Conley and the Raiders are a perfect example of that.
Though Conley was taken 24th in the draft, that was due to his off of the field issues, not his on the field performance. If rating him based on his play as a football player only, Conley was seen by many as a top 10 to top 15 prospect in this year’s draft and perhaps the best corner in a VERY deep corner class.
So what should the Raiders and their fans expect from Conley in year one? If you ask me, they should expect a top ten talent who plays early and often.
Now, I’m not going to set lofty expectations as far as production because I think that’s unfair. Cornerback is one of the most difficult positions to transition from college to the pros. Often times, players who develop into great corners will take some lumps and bruises their rookie year. It’s part of the process and not very surprising.
BUT, while I’m not going to expect Conley to haul in a ton of interceptions, I do expect him to play well enough in camp and the preseason to lock down one of the top three corner spots once the year starts.
If Conley is unable to beat out one of the three corners who made up one of the worst secondaries in football last season, it’s not a great sign for a draft pick who was supposed to be one of the top talents in a draft loaded with talented players.
So that’s where I’d set my expectations for Conley: A day one starter*. From there, we will see what else he can do, but if he isn’t a starter right away that will be a disappointment.
*I consider the nickel corner to be a starting position since defenses spend more time in their sub-packages than their base package.