Oakland Raiders  

 

Raiders confident in due diligence behind Gareon Conley pick

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ALAMEDA, Calif. -- Oakland Raiders first-round draft pick Gareon Conley sat at his introductory news conference Friday between general manager Reggie McKenzie and coach Jack Del Rio, the men who risked a portion of their reputations for Conley to have a seat at this table.

Conley is being investigated by the Cleveland Police Department after he was accused of rape by a woman earlier this month. Conley has not been charged nor has he been arrested in connection with the incident.

He's denied the accusation. Del Rio and McKenzie believe him. They said they did their homework to assure themselves and a lot of other people that the former Ohio State cornerback won't be in trouble and will be on the field for the Raiders in this season of high expectations -- and beyond.

It's why they surprised most of the NFL by using the 24th overall pick on Conley.

Conley has taken a polygraph. He has taken other measures to clear himself. Monday, he will meet with police about the incident that took place early this month at a hotel in Cleveland.

"They were confident in their research and confident in me and the person that I am to pick me," Conley said about Del Rio and McKenzie on Thursday after being drafted.

Everything is in front of everyone involved. It's why McKenzie said it would be football questions only for Conley, Del Rio and him, at the news conference Friday.

McKenzie, Del Rio and Conley answered questions about the off-field concerns Thursday night anyway. There was nothing really more to be said -- for now.

Still, this development only adds to what has been a pretty staggering four weeks with the Raiders. In late March, the Raiders received league approval to relocate from Oakland to Las Vegas, which they plan to do by 2020. The club worked out a deal to sign, then trade-for once-retired hometown hero Marshawn Lynch, a running back with the style and persona that seem so perfect for what this team, franchise and region are about.

With the 24th pick of the draft, they selected a player accused of rape.

If these accusations prove false, then Conley has been wrongfully damaged and should be bitter, angry and guarded moving forward. The smearing of his reputation won't be easy to shake for a while.

If these accusations prove false, McKenzie's and Del Rio's due diligence in their pre-draft process and faith in the results of their research, work, as well as their belief in Conley, will forge even deeper trust on so many fronts -- especially by the guys in the locker room.

Should Conley be arrested and charged, it would be a blight. Forget about the possible negative return on the draft pick. It could show a misguided gamble on a player accused of a major crime. Even if Conley were eventually cleared after being charged, it still could lead to months of angst, bad PR and doubts.

The NFL could have a say in this too, as its personal-conduct policy was upgraded a few years ago to address specific behavior of its employees toward women. Conley could be subject to league discipline regardless if he is charged or arrested.

Before any of this, Conley was coveted by the Raiders. After this, Conley was coveted by the Raiders. McKinley and Del Rio acknowledged as much. He fits a need on the field.

Conley is expected to be with them at a rookie minicamp next week and at every other team activity. Conley could be coming to an ideal situation, as the Raiders have been one of the best-behaved teams off the field in the NFL over the past few seasons, according to a league official.

McKenzie and Del Rio have set a standard of professionalism and accountability while building a roster mixed with vets and a young nucleus, spearheaded by Derek Carr, Khalil Mack, Bruce Irvin, Michael Crabtree, Donald Penn and now Lynch.

In answering a question about the culture that's been cultivated in the Raiders' ascension to playoff team, Del Rio said of Conley, "he's a good young man," and that he'll be a "great teammate."

He really doesn't have an option does he?

Follow Steve Wyche on Twitter at @wyche89.

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