Ohio State has become DBU (Defensive Back University) in recent years. Since 2014, Ohio State has had two first round corners, Eli Apple and Bradley Roby, and is expected to have at least two other defensive backs go in the first round this year, Marshon Lattimore and Malik Hooker. There is no denying the skill of any of those players but shutdown corner Gareon Conley could be the best of all of these players.
As the number one corner for the last two seasons on a stout Buckeye’s defense, Conley garnered 91 tackles, 15 passes defensed, and 6 interceptions. He also received All-Big Ten honorable mention in 2015 and All-Big 10 second team honors in 2016.
So why is Conley so underrated compared to other Ohio State corners? Over the past two seasons it was mainly Conley who covered the other team’s number one receiver, not projected top ten pick Marshon Lattimore or former top ten pick Eli Apple. It may be because of all the hype of other players on Ohio State’s defense that keep him underrated but Conley does have the ability to become the best corner in this class.
Name: Gareon Conley
Size: 6’0”/ 195
School: Ohio State
Class: RS Junior
Comparison: Darius Slay (Detroit Lions)
Draft Grade: Mid 1st Round
Positives: Very scheme versatile player, has the ability to match up in the slot or on the outside. Impressive length, allows him to match up with taller receivers with ease. Very good feet around the LOS, enables him to change direction and match up well with slot receivers. Very comfortable playing around the line in man to man but can also sit back in zone at a high level. Very good ball skills and read and react ability. Incredible at mirroring receivers off the line, allows very little separation. Most impressive skill is how tight he stays in coverage, allows very small throwing windows for quarterbacks to fit the ball in.
Negatives: Play strength is a major weakness, gets driven back way too often against the run. Overall, his ability to defend the run is very poor. Needs to learn to use hands on receivers in press. In college, he had the athleticism to allow those free releases and then recover but that won’t work in the NFL. Transition from his backpedal is slow at times. Good athlete but not great by any means, may hurt him when covering faster players at the next level.
Outlook: Conley is easily the most consistent cover corner in this loaded draft class. He sticks to receivers better than any other prospect and possesses the ball skills to be a true number 1 guy at the next level. Expect him to initially start his career in the slot (depending on which team he ends up on) then work his way into a shutdown corner role. If he can clean up his run defense and learn better hand usage around the line of scrimmage, it isn’t unrealistic to think Conley could end up as the best cornerback from this draft.