COLUMBUS, Ohio — When it comes to former Ohio State players in the 2017 NFL Draft, there may not be a more polarizing prospect than Gareon Conley.
According to some scouts, Conley could very well be one of three ex-Buckeyes selected in April’s first round. For others, he may not even be one of the first 10 cornerbacks to come off the board.
Like most NFL hopefuls, Conley’s draft prospects will be heavily affected by what he does in the weeks leading up to the draft.
Until then, let’s take a look back at how the former Ohio State star got to this point and what others are saying about his pro potential.
A 4-star prospect coming out of Massillon (Ohio) Washington High School, Conley committed to the Buckeyes’ 2013 class in December 2012 — although his recruitment wasn’t without drama. Initially, the nation’s 15th-ranked corner had committed to Michigan, before Brady Hoke’s ‘no-visit’ policy resulted in Conley opting to look elsewhere.
“I don’t really think about it,” Conley said last fall about his initial commitment to the Wolverines. “Obviously, I thought about it back then. But I don’t really think about it anymore.”
Over the course of his recruitment, Conley also received offers from West Virginia, Northwestern, Cincinnati, Kent State and Toledo. Also a star on the hardwood, Conley was somewhat of a late-bloomer on the gridiron, although his upside was always apparent.
“We thought highly of him and I remember he played his tail off his senior year,” said Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer. “I went and watched him practice basketball and that’s when I was like, ‘This is a crazy athlete.’ ”
After redshirting as a true freshman, Conley struggled in limited action in 2014 — to the point that the Buckeyes coaching staff felt more comfortable playing an injured Eli Apple for the bulk of a crucial game against Michigan State.
As a redshirt sophomore, however, Conley improved drastically, securing a starting spot opposite Apple in fall camp. In 13 games, he totaled 49 tackles, 5 pass breakups and 2 interceptions.
A year later, Conley would take another step forward, combining with Marshon Lattimore to make up arguably the most talented cornerback duo in all of college football. Recording 26 tackles, 8 pass breakups and 4 interceptions, Conley made some of the Buckeyes’ most pivotal plays of the season, including a game-clinching interception against the Spartans — the same team he had been benched against two years prior.
For his efforts, Conley earned All-Big Ten second-team honors.
What his coaches said
Urban Meyer: “He’s another one who’s a brilliant player for us … major impact. He’s not just a great player, but a great leader as well.”
Ohio State cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs: “Gareon is unbelievable in his experience at the position and knowledge and his combination of speed and strength.”
What draft experts are saying
Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller: “Gareon Conley is your prototypical NFL man-coverage cornerback. He’s long, fast, and has shown the instincts and ball skills to be a dynamic playmaker and play-preventer on an island. The biggest questions will be if the Ohio State secondary — featuring two more first-rounders in Malik Hooker and Marshon Lattimore — hid his flaws.”
At the moment, it’s tough to peg where Conley will wind up.
In his most recent mock draft, Bleacher Report’s Miller pegged him as a first-round pick, with the Oakland Raiders selecting the 6-foot-1, 195-pound corner 24th overall. Miller, however, is the only major draft analyst to project Conley as a first-round pick heading into the scouting combine, although NFL.com acknowledged his first-round potential.
“He’s not as good as the other cornerback (Lattimore), but he’s a good corner,” an NFL scout told the site. “If he measures over 6-foot and runs in the low 4.4s he will come off the board on Thursday night.”
Conley and the other cornerbacks in the draft are set to work out on Sunday.
Per the same NFL.com profile, Conley compares favorably to Denver Broncos star Aqib Talib.
A first-round pick out of Kansas in 2008, Talib has earned four Pro Bowl appearances over the course of his nine-year career. At 6-foot-1 and 205 pounds, he possesses similar size to Conley, who fits the mold of the lengthy corner Meyer covets.
Depending on how he works out, a team may pick Conley in a similar spot. But regardless of his draft position, he possesses the potential to enjoy a lengthy career at the next level.