ALAMEDA, Calif. — Need or best player available?
Gut or research?
“This was totally the board,” Oakland Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie said Thursday night in the wake of drafting Ohio State cornerback Gareon Conley with the No. 24 overall selection in the NFL draft.
“I mean, [Conley] was hands down the best player left on our board.”
The Raiders made the call in the wake of a rape allegation against Conley earlier this week and despite the fact that players at positions of possibly greater need — Alabama inside linebacker Reuben Foster and Michigan State defensive tackle Malik McDowell — remained available.
McKenzie insisted the Raiders did “miles and miles” of research on Conley and came away “confident in all the information we have gathered.” Conley has not been charged in the alleged incident in Cleveland and said he passed a polygraph test Thursday morning and will meet Monday with police.
Conley was more than appreciative that Oakland took a chance on him.
“It’s off the charts, honestly,” Conley said of his gratitude. “Just to know that they have faith in me, not even just as a football player but as a person, like that, it speaks highly of them and I really appreciate it. It’s an honor to be a part of the Raider organization.”
“We expect him to come in and compete,” coach Jack Del Rio said. “We think he’s a highly skilled player and he’s got the potential to be one of our better corners.
“He’s a football junkie and he loves to compete … good teammate and a really quality kid. He’s got great length, great speed. Really, really strong workouts throughout the spring, and then his tape is really good. He’s one of those really clean players that we are fortunate to get our hands on late in the first round.”
Conley had eight pass breakups and four interceptions at Ohio State in 2016.
The Raiders had the No. 24-ranked pass defense and allowed a league-high 61 completions that went for at least 20 yards.
So yes, Conley addresses a need and, as McKenzie said, was Oakland’s top-ranked player.
That’s why he and Del Rio were pleased, even with the cloud of the accusation against Conley.
If the Raiders believed a charge was coming, they would not have invested a first-round pick in Conley.
“It’s been real emotional [this week], but I got through it,” Conley said. “I just kept my faith strong and just kept listening to my mom, my agent … and kept my head on straight. Had faith.
“It is the best moment of my life.”
Conley, on a conference call to reporters at the Raiders’ facility, was asked about the accusation against him.
“I’m very confident that it will be resolved,” he said. “I took a [polygraph] test today; that helps … and all the evidence I have, I feel confident that it will be resolved.
“I could have made way better judgment. I mean, I didn’t know what I was getting myself into, but I definitely could have made a better decision.”
On the field, the 6-foot, 195-pound Conley played mostly on the outside, but he said he started playing in the slot last season and was comfortable there as well.
“He’s the type of corner you look for,” McKenzie said. “It’s hard to get separation from him. He can play the deep ball. He can play press. He’s big. He’s strong. He’s fast. And he understands the game and you can tell he loves the game by the way he plays.
“Watching his tape, being around him, interviewing him … we had no question about his skill set and his ability to play the game. We feel real good about this, about the pick.”