Gareon Conley: A Raiders Star on the Rise?

With the 31st overall pick in the 2003 draft, Al Davis’ Raiders took defensive back Nnamdi Asomugha. In time, the former Cal Bear would not only become the best player on the Raiders, he’d also turn into one of the top cover corners in football. He was a bright spot for a team that was enduring its worst stretch in franchise history, losing 11+ games in seven straight seasons. In 2010, in what was Nnamdi’s eighth and final year in Oakland, the team finally finished with a .500 record.

(You know, when Tom Cable famously said, “We’re not losers anymore”)

With Asomugha gone, Oakland had a void to fill at a premium position. Former Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie must have known this, as he took D.J. Hayden out of Houston with his premiere first-round pick in 2013, likely hoping he’d be one solution to a laundry list of problems. As it turns out, Hayden was not the answer. Not even close.

McKenzie eventually got it right though, taking an uber talented cornerback out of Ohio State with the 24th pick in the 2017 draft: Gareon Conley.

Unfortunately, Conley’s talent was not on full display right away. After appearing in just 2 games during his rookie campaign, the former Buckeye wound up missing the remainder of the year with a serious shin injury.

So much for shin splints, right?

Fresh Start

Going into his second season as a pro, Conley was eager to move on from an odd twelve months and get things rolling on the gridiron again. He would do so under a whole new regime, featuring head coach Jon Gruden and defensive coordinator Paul Guenther. Gareon also changed his jersey number from 22 to 21, coincidentally wearing the same digits that Asomugha did back when he donned the Silver & Black. I’m not saying it was intentional, but I dig it anyways. Let me have my fun.

Although the Raiders struggled as a team in 2018, Gareon flashed and showed why he was a first-round caliber prospect. Statistically, he finished with 24 solo tackles, 3 interceptions (including a pick six), and finished top-10 in the NFL with 15 passes defended. Per PFF, Conley only allowed a 72.8 passer rating when targeted, which ranked 14th out of 128 qualifying cornerbacks. No other Raider finished better than 78th on that list.

From my viewpoint, it certainly seemed like Conley’s comfort level kicked up a notch around the midway point of the season. Naturally, that coincided with more trust from his coaches, as they finally started to slow their roll on veteran players like Rashaan Melvin and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.

As you can see, the #TwitterCoordinator in me had some thoughts on the topic:

After this tweet, he’d average 51.1 defensive snaps per game. You’re welcome.

Conley Island

Among the valuable experiences he gained last season, none will pay more dividends than the going 1-on-1 against some of the best receivers in the league.

I decided to track Conley in coverage when he was faced with that challenge, just to add some context to his performance. The bullet points below reflect the amount of targets, receptions and yards that were acquired by that player while Conley was up against them in coverage . . .

  • Week 8 vs T.Y. Hilton: 1 target, 0 receptions, pass breakup by Conley
  • Weeks 13+17 vs Tyreek Hill: 1 target, 0 receptions, INT by Conley
  • Week 14 vs Antonio Brown: 4 targets, 3 receptions, 28 yards, INT by Whitehead off pass breakup by Conley

The game against his new teammate, Mr. Big Chest, obviously had the most volume. It’s important to point out that Guenther didn’t typically ask Conley to shadow marquee players, as he was mostly kept on the boundary to check whoever trotted out to his side of the field. When #1 receivers did line up against him, the throws mostly went elsewhere. That starts to make sense when you look at the stats, as Conley ranked 7th in targets allowed per game (4.1) and 3rd in coverage rating efficiency (+48.4) among all qualified NFL cornerbacks.

You know who else wasn’t targeted that often? Nnamdi. Just sayin’.

Film Assessment

All in all, during my lengthy film review of Conley, I saw a lot to like. There were a few coverage mishaps and some open field tackling that he’d probably like to correct, but overall he was solid. His physical tools – size, length, explosiveness – all help give him the ability to be sticky in coverage and a total nuisance for opposing WRs in contested catch situations.

The most impressive thing to me is his feel for the game, which can be attributed to his football IQ. A sign of that is how he knows how to position himself against a receiver and turn his head to either read the quarterbacks eyes or locate the football in mid-air. That in itself is a breath of fresh air, as the number of CBs that have played for Oakland over the last decade that were never able to do that consistently is mind numbing. The Raiders defense suffered for it, year in and year out.

I think Conley is going to be a big reason why that’ll change.

The two keys for Gareon have to be health and consistency. If both of those are on his side going forward, then there’s no good reason why he can’t establish himself as a cornerstone player for this franchise for years to come.

Just like Asomugha.

(Featured Photo:


7 thoughts on “Gareon Conley: A Raiders Star on the Rise?

  1. He makes the Pro Bowl this season, but will not play in the game. The reason is he will be with his team practicing for the Super Bowl..

  2. O.S.U. Baby Conley is and Will Be A Cornerstone to Our Defense going forward, Just Win Baby Raaaaiidderrs. 😎😎

  3. But Reggie picked him! How could he possibly be any good?

    (for the humor impaired, this was very much intended to be sarcastic)

  4. It’s good to see this player finally produce. We drafted him , he started trying to promote his “Brand”. He started talking “Conley Island” and he had a logo! He was hurt , when he finally played…it wasn’t good at first. So I dogged him every chance I had , because he pissed me off. “Con Man Conley” , etc. He looked great last part of last season. I hope he can keep it up.

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