Expecting slide for CB Gareon Conley in NFL draft, teams press for details in sexual assault allegations

NFL columnist
Yahoo Sports

While Ohio State cornerback Gareon Conley hasn’t been charged after allegations of sexual assault, talent evaluators on three NFL teams said they believe he is headed for a significant NFL draft slide, leading some franchises that didn’t expect him to be available to scramble for details in the alleged incident. Two franchises confirmed dispatching private contractors – both using former FBI agents – to cull information in allegations that Conley sexually assaulted a woman in a Cleveland hotel.

The driving force is the common thread that teams haven’t gotten any guidance from NFL security where it concerns Conley and will have to make their draft judgments based on their own research. Multiple NFL teams told Yahoo Sports they have taken a deep dive into the incident. At least two teams have been investigating the allegations – using their own law-enforcement resources – since receiving reports of the alleged incident as early as last Friday. The two teams are preparing to make a decision Thursday about Conley’s standing on their draft boards, including a briefing with ownership.

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“You were all late to this thing,” one evaluator said Wednesday, referring to media reports that erupted Monday and eventually named Conley.

NFL teams apparently didn’t all find out about the allegations at once. One team said it was alerted by a source on Friday that Conley had a potential red flag unfolding, while two others franchises didn’t become aware until a media report – with no player name attached – began circulating in personnel circles on Sunday.

Conley was named as a suspect in an eight-page Cleveland police report released on Tuesday, detailing an alleged sexual assault of a 23-year-old woman at the Westin Hotel in downtown Cleveland. In the report, the alleged victim stated that she met Conley in an elevator after 2:45 a.m. and accompanied him to his room, going on to describe the alleged assault in detail. Sometime after 3 a.m., she called 911 and police were dispatched to the hotel where the alleged victim was interviewed and then taken to the hospital for a rape kit.

Ohio State’s Gareon Conley won’t be attending the NFL draft in Philadelphia. (AP)
Ohio State’s Gareon Conley won’t be attending the NFL draft in Philadelphia. (AP)

According to the report, police entered the room where the alleged assault occurred and interviewed two male witnesses who said Conley hadn’t assaulted the woman. While the room was in Conley’s name, he wasn’t present at the hotel when police arrived. Once at the hospital, the report stated that the woman declined to do another interview with police and that she “just kept saying she wanted to go home and that her dignity was stripped from her in a manner of minutes.”

Conley issued a statement Wednesday denying that allegations, calling them “completely false,” adding that, “I did not commit a crime and have not been charged with a crime.” He also claimed to have video evidence to “further discredit and disprove other versions of these events.”

Conley’s statement in full:

The allegations against me concerning the night of April 8/9 that have recently been reported in multiple media outlets are completely false. I did not commit a crime and have not been charged with a crime.

I pride myself on doing things the right way on and off the field. The things being said about me and what happened that night are not true and don’t fit my character at all. I realize that I put myself in the situation and I could have used better judgement. However, I have worked tirelessly to put myself in position to have the honor of being an NFL draft pick and these untrue allegations are putting a huge cloud over my name and the NFL draft.

These allegations appear to be an attempt to ruin this once in a lifetime experience for me and my family. There were several witnesses, including another female, who were present the entire time and have given statements that give an accurate account of what took place. We also have video evidence that further discredit and disprove other versions of these events. I am upset but realize that I am powerless when false accusations are made and people try to convict you in the court of public opinion. It’s sad that your name can get dragged through the mud based upon untrue and malicious allegations alone.

I am completely confident that as the facts actually come out my name will be cleared. I was excited about participating in Thursday’s draft but I have decided that it would be selfish for me to stay and be a distraction to the NFL, the other players, and their families who have worked just as hard as me to enjoy the experience so I will not be in attendance.

I hope and look forward to the honor of being an NFL player and working to be the best representative, player, person, and teammate that I can be for the team and the community I will be in.

In spite of that statement, the situation appears to be mirroring a last-minute scramble to gather information on offensive tackle La’el Collins before the 2015 draft. During that draft week, police sought to speak with Collins regarding the murder of a female associate. He was unable to clear the matter prior to the draft and ultimately went unselected, only to be cleared as a suspect days later. That ultimately led to Collins signing with the Dallas Cowboys as an undrafted free agent.

Whether Conley faces the same result remains to be seen. At least one team in the bottom half of the first round still had Conley on its board Wednesday night and listed among the top two cornerbacks available, according to an evaluator who spoke to Yahoo Sports.

Prior to the assault allegations, Conley was slotted as a solid first-round pick with top-10 draft potential.

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