NFL draft profile: No. 11 Ohio State CB Gareon Conley, good press-man cover man with instincts

Ohio State CB Gareon Conley
6-foot-0, 195 pounds

Key stat: After playing mostly in reserve role as a freshman, Conley started 26 games over the following two seasons in 2015 and 2016, and totaled 75 tackles, 13 pass breakups and six interceptions.

Ohio State CB Gareon Conley appears to be a first-round pick. (AP)
Ohio State CB Gareon Conley appears to be a first-round pick. (AP)

The skinny: Three-star recruit from football factory Massillon, Ohio, Conley was recruited to Columbus by then Buckeyes assistant coach Mike Vrabel, now a defensive coach with the Houston Texans. Conley arrived on campus weighing 168 pounds in 2013 and was a pet project of strength coach Mickey Marotti during Conley’s redshirt season. He earned a role as a reserve as a redshirt freshman, even starting one game in place of an injured Eli Apple in 2014, but because Conley struggled in that game Apple was called on to gut through the pain and replace the true freshman.

Conley rebounded by winning a starting job in the fall of 2015 and not letting it go. He was named honorable mention All-Big Ten in 2015 and second-team all-Big Ten last season in a conference loaded with quality DB talent.

Conley declared for the 2017 NFL draft after already earning his degree. He will turn 22 in July.

Best-suited destination: He’s a press-man corner (more so than a zone corner) so teams that play that scheme might be more inclined to have a stronger value on him. Teams that could be especially interested include: the Philadelphia Eagles, Kansas City Chiefs, Tennessee Titans, Arizona Cardinals, Los Angeles Rams, Chicago Bears, Miami Dolphins, Minnesota Vikings, Cincinnati Bengals, New England Patriots, Cleveland Browns and Denver Broncos.

Upside: Conley ran well at the scouting combine (4.44 40 time) and his speed shows on tape. He can stay stride for stride with fast receivers and also shows good recovery speed to make plays. Good length — solid frame and long arms (33 inches) to make him an ideal press corner on the next level but can be effective in off coverage, too. Athletically gifted with good short-area quickness (excellent 3-cone drill time of 6.68 seconds). Also put up very good vertical jump (37 inches) and broad jump (129 inches) numbers, which are indications of lower-body explosion. Can plant and drive well. Moves his feet quickly and starts coverage technique with them, not with his hands. Well coached and disciplined. Anticipates routes and will undercut them as he did early in the BCS semifinal game against Clemson:

Gareon Conley sniffs out the corner route against Clemson. (Draftbreakdown.com)
Gareon Conley sniffs out the corner route against Clemson. (Draftbreakdown.com)

Can make plays on the ball without getting handsy on receivers. Has a knack for stepping in front of passes without making contact. Here’s a good example of that in overtime against Michigan on a key play:

Ohio State CB Gareon Conley manages to knock the pass away without committing interference against Michigan. (Draftbreakdown.com)
Ohio State CB Gareon Conley manages to knock the pass away without committing interference against Michigan. (Draftbreakdown.com)

Nice ball production — eight passes defended and four interceptions (on 42 passes his way, per Pro Football Focus) last season, which is a very good rate. Very good football instincts. Praised by Buckeyes staff for being smart, well-prepared, a hard worker and a team leader in a talented, vocal and confident locker room. Has played inside and outside, and both sides of the field, which adds to his value. Should be a Day 1 contributor for whatever teams drafts him. Arrow pointing up.

Downside: Still growing into his frame and can add strength. Might not be able to body or reroute strong receivers from Jump Street without spending more time in the weight room and improving jam technique. Only did 11 bench-press reps, which puts him near the bottom of the CB group in that workout.

Looked a little tight in the hips in DB drills and leggy on his transitions. Will occasionally bail too much and give up the short stuff too easily (see Michigan and Clemson games). Can let faster, quicker players cross his face as Michigan’s Grant Perry did here on the quick slant in off-man coverage last season:

Gareon Conley can let quicker players get the best of him at times. (Draftbreakdown.com)
Gareon Conley can let quicker players get the best of him at times. (Draftbreakdown.com)

Still must harness his zone instincts better. More natural right now in man coverage. Tackling needs work — not considered great in this area, although desire doesn’t appear to be the issue.

Scouting hot take: “[Teammate Marshon Lattimore] still grades out higher for me, but they crank out the talent there. You go in there every year and you see players who barely played looking like seasoned pros. They’re extremely well coached and very clean. You’d like [Conley] a little stronger, but he looks like a good one to me.” — AFC scouting director

Player comp: Darius Slay, who was overshadowed by teammate Johnathan Banks coming out but quietly has become one of the best corners in the league

Expected draft range: Top-25 pick

Previous profiles

Nos. 51-100: Here’s who just missed the cut
No. 50: Indiana OG-C Dan Feeney
No. 49: Iowa DB Desmond King
No. 48: Vanderbilt LB Zach Cunningham
No. 47: Wisconsin pass rusher T.J. Watt
No. 46. Alabama pass rusher Tim Williams
No. 45. Washington CB Sidney Jones
No. 44. Alabama LB Ryan Anderson
No. 43. Ohio State WR-RB Curtis Samuel
No. 42. Florida DT Caleb Brantley
No. 41. Connecticut DB Obi Melifonwu
No. 40. USC CB-KR Adoree’ Jackson
No. 39. Texas Tech QB Patrick Mahomes
No. 38. Michigan State DL Malik McDowell
No. 37: Ole Miss TE Evan Engram
No. 36: Florida LB Jarrad Davis
No. 35: Washington S Budda Baker
No. 34: Oklahoma RB Joe Mixon
No. 33: Alabama CB Marlon Humphrey
No. 32: Florida CB Quincy Wilson
No. 31: Tennessee RB Alvin Kamara
No. 30: Michigan DB-RS Jabrill Peppers
No. 29: Alabama OT Cam Robinson
No. 28: Notre Dame QB DeShone Kizer
No. 27: LSU CB Tre’Davious White
No. 26: Missouri DE Charles Harris
No. 25: UCLA pass rusher Takkarist McKinley
No. 24: Michigan DE Taco Charlton
No. 23: Wisconsin OT Ryan Ramczyk
No. 22: Utah OT Garett Bolles
No. 21: Western Kentucky OG-C Forrest Lamp
No. 20: Florida State RB Dalvin Cook
No. 19: Miami (Fla.) TE David Njoku
No. 18: Tennessee DE Derek Barnett
No. 17: Clemson QB Deshaun Watson
No. 16: North Carolina QB Mitchell Trubisky
No. 15: Washington WR John Ross
No. 14: Clemson WR Mike Williams
No. 13: Western Michigan WR Corey Davis
No. 12: Temple LB Haason Reddick

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Eric Edholm is a writer for Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at edholm@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter!

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