Summary: During the 2016 college football season, WalterFootball.com was first to report that Buckeyes safety Malik Hooker was being graded as a high first-round pick and that teammate cornerback Marshon Lattimore was being graded as top-16 pick. Both were new starters for Ohio State who were impressing from the start of fall camp as being freaky defensive backs with major coverage skills for the NFL. While those two were getting a lot of the headlines, Gareon Conley was having an excellent junior season. He is a silky smooth cover corner who isn't as flamboyant, but is a sneaky good player who is well-rounded and does everything well.
Conley won a starting job in 2015 and really improved as the year progressed. He totaled 49 tackles with two interceptions and five passes broken up on the year. As a junior, Conley was even better as he and Lattimore formed a tremendous cornerback tandem that shut down opposing receivers. Conley recorded 26 tackles with eight passes broken up and four interceptions in 2016. That led to teams grading him in the first round, and he added to that estimation with an excellent combine performance in which he showed some impressive speed, including a sparkling 4.44-second time in the 40-yard dash. With his size, length, speed, and quality play over two seasons, Conley cemented his status as a first-round pick.
Conley is a polished cornerback who does everything well. He can excel in off-man, press-man, or zone coverage. With his speed, quick feet, and athleticism, Conley is able to run with receivers to prevent separation. He has good size and really battles bigger receivers on jump balls. Conley has good instincts and breaks on the ball extremely well. With his good ball skills, Conley doesn't panic when the ball is thrown his direction. He does a superb job of playing the ball and getting his hands on it.
Sources feel there are a few flaws with Conley. The only real knock on him is lacking short-area twitch, but that is common with bigger cornerbacks, and there are plenty of successful NFL cornerbacks who are similar.
For the NFL, Conley is a versatile corner who could be a No. 1 corner for his defense. Teams across the league have graded Conley as a first-rounder, and some team sources have said they project him as a top-20 pick.
Player Comparison: Johnathan Joseph. Conley reminds me of Joseph. Both are polished well-rounded cornerbacks who do everything well. The only real difference I see between the two is Joseph (5-11, 185) is a little twitchier in short areas while Conley is a little bigger. However, both are versatile corners who can play a variety of techniques. They have good ball skills and are adept at preventing separation with their cover skills. With the Texans, Joseph has been one of the better and most consistent corners in the NFL. He is a smooth cover corner who goes under the radar. Thus, Conley reminds me of him in a lot of different ways. Joseph was a first-round pick in the 2006 NFL Draft, and Conley should be a first-rounder in the 2017 NFL Draft.
NFL Matches: Buffalo, New Orleans, Cleveland, Philadelphia, Indianapolis, Baltimore, Washington, Tennessee, Detroit, Miami, Oakland, Dallas and Green Bay
There are a lot of potential fits for Conley in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft. The highest he could hope to go would probably be to the Bills at 10th overall. Buffalo needs a corner to replace Stephon Gilmore. The Saints could use more cornerback help for their defense, so they could consider taking Conley with the 11th-overall pick. Cleveland needs a third cornerback and could consider Conley at pick No. 12.
If Conley gets to picks No. 14-18, he has five potential landing spots. Philadelphia needs multiple cornerback upgrades and a No. 1 corner. Conley could be in play for the Eaglrd in the first round. One pick later, the Colts need another corner to pair with Vontae Davis, and Conley could be a fit for Indianapolis. The Ravens could use a corner upgrade to go with Jimmy Smith, while Washington needs a corner upgrade across from Josh Norman. The Titans need a No. 1 corner, and if they don't take one at No. 5, that could put Conley in play for them at No. 18.
If Conley slips into the 20s, there are several landing spots for him. The Lions need a corner upgrade across from Darius Slay. The Dolphins and Raiders both need to improve their cornerbacks. Dallas badly needs cornerback help after losing Morris Claiborne. The Packers also could use more talent at corner.