Gareon Conley: What do you do?

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Before the NFL Draft started, each team had their draft board established with their wish list of players, the value they place on each player, the round they think they are worth being drafted in as well as a detailed report on their medical history, intelligence, and criminal record. They have not only interviewed most of these potential draft choices, they have also spoken to former coaches, teachers, friends, and anyone else they can think of to gather as much information before investing a boat load of money in young men.

Each year, the draft is filled with players who will often end up either making a coach and front office look like geniuses or cost them their jobs. Consequently, teams do all they can to make sure the players they select do not end up turning out to be a bust.

If you are a fan of the NFL, you have seen the many mock drafts that attempt to determine which teams select which players. Before the draft we saw the same 40 names mentioned as the most likely 32 first round selections. What we did not know is which players teams really want and what their needs really are. This is why the NFL Draft season is for many NFL fans more fun than the actual regular season. If you do not believe me, just ask a Cleveland Browns fan.

It seems every year a few potential high draft picks shoot themselves in the foot by getting arrested for a DUI or drug possession, failing a drug test at the NFL combine, or having some embarrassing video of some stupid or illegal act become public knowledge. Not only do these set off alarm bells in NFL team headquarters, they have the potential of costing the player millions of dollars by seeing their draft stock drop a few rounds.

But what should a team do when one of their top-rated players at a crucial position gets arrested for rape just two days before the draft? Gareon Conley, a highly coveted corner back out of The Ohio State will soon find out. The NFL is a passing league and the best way to stop a great quarterback from connecting with his best receiver is to find guys who can cover them so close there is no way to complete a pass. Shut down corners do not last long in the draft and they are very well paid. However, what do you do if you are a general manager or head coach knowing the guy you want has a rape charge to beat?

Teams and the league will often reach out with their security departments contacting the police department involved in the investigation, but we live in a country where you are innocent until proven guilty. I am not saying Conley is innocent or guilty in this case, but he is stuck between a rock and a hard place because if he cannot clear his name in the next day or two, he is going to go from a first round pick to most likely not being drafted at all.

Our society is wired now to automatically think any team that drafts a player with a rape case standing over his head is indignant to the plight of women. We assume the young man accused is guilty and not the victim of a woman who might be looking to make a nice profit by getting him to settle with a financial gift. If he cuts a deal, we think it was a case in which he paid her off to walk, which in our culture is not at all unfathomable to think.

If the accuser is looking to profit off the millions he stands to make or is an ex who is looking to hurt him in the worst way possible, there is little he can do to make up for the loss of millions from going undrafted.

Warren Sapp fell from being the potential first pick in the draft to twelfth because there was a rumor he smoked pot. He used this slight to motivate him to punish the eleven teams that passed on him on his way to a hall of fame career.

Pot is not the same as rape. There is a very good chance if this case drags out beyond summer, Gareon Conley will have to sit out the season and hope a team signs him next year. If this happens, it will most likely be at the minimum salary along with the minimum security that goes with being an undrafted free agent. In the mean time, how does he continue to work at his trade if he can’t go back and play college ball while the NFL waits for his name to be cleared?

If indeed Gareon raped a woman on the night of April 9, justice will be served and he will be made to pay the price. However, if this is a form of payback from a woman looking to extract what she can out of his talent as a player, Conley will never get back what he stands to lose.

If you are a general manager who had Gareon Conley at the top of your draft board, it’s past time to move on to Plan B because in the NFL, you can not afford to whiff on a first round draft pick, especially one who can’t see a football field from his prison cell.

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EDITOR’S UPDATES: The Oakland/Las Vegas Raiders made Conley the 24th pick in the first round of the draft. Raiders General manager Reggie McKenzie told Sports Illustrated reporter Tom Jones “… we did our research, and we read all the reports, and we did more than our due diligence. After all the information we got, we were comfortable with making this choice and confidant in who this player is.”

S.I. also reported the Baltimore Ravens paid to have a polygraph test administered and the results were emailed to all the GM’s around the league.

Polygraph tests are not considered reliable by many scientific and legal experts, but many people use them in such, non-binding situations like the NFL Draft. It’s unlikely the test would be used as evidence in a court case.

When the Raiders called to let him know he had been selected Conley told reporters, “When they called it was the best moment of my life. Just to know they have faith in me, not just as a football player, but as a person, speaks highly of them, and I really appreciate it.”

Time and legal proceedings will determine if the Raiders made the right choice.

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In related news the Los Angeles Chargers selected wide receiver Mike Williams from the BCS Champion Clemson University. In 2015 Williams suffered a season-ending neck injury but came back for a very impressive 2016 season: 1,361 yards, with 11 touchdowns. One of the TD’s came during the BCS title game against Alabama.

Williams also earned a degree in sociology while at Clemson.

The Los Angeles Rams did not have a first-round pick this year. They traded it away last year to make Jared Goff the first pick in the 2016 draft.