Did Raiders' Gareon Conley open door for use of lie-detector tests in NFL draft process?

·NFL columnist

If the Baltimore Ravens did indeed request the polygraph test taken by controversial NFL draft pick Gareon Conley, some teams don’t see it as something that violated NFL protocols or federal employment laws, according to two teams that spoke to Yahoo Sports on Friday.

The NFL declined to comment on the polygraphing of draft picks – despite multiple outlets reporting that Conley, who is being investigated in allegations of sexual assault, submitted to a lie-detector test at the request of the Ravens. A source familiar with the circumstances of the test told Yahoo Sports that Baltimore didn’t specifically request that Conley take a lie-detector. Instead, the source characterized the Ravens’ role as suggesting something that might help Conley in the eyes of evaluators who were still making a decision on his draft value on Thursday.

Appropriate or not, that’s a fairly important distinction when it comes to setting draft precedent and whether it would be acceptable practice for NFL teams to require draft picks to take polygraph tests.

It’s clear that teams see lie-detector tests as tools at their disposal. Two teams told Yahoo Sports that they believe polygraph tests can be a proper suggestion in extreme situations – so long as the player had not yet been drafted.

Raiders draft pick Gareon Conley is being accused of sexual assault. (AP)
Raiders draft pick Gareon Conley is being accused of sexual assault. (AP)

“A prospect isn’t employed,” one team executive said. “They have no guarantee of employment whether they take the test or not. So, you know, obviously asking them to take a [polygraph] test isn’t ideal. But if it’s in their best interest and you point the resource out to them, it’s their choice whether they want to go that route. … Maybe it helps them. But being what the draft is – we’re talking about an unpredictable selection process – you don’t even know if that player will be available to you. So whether they take the test or not can be totally irrelevant anyway. Even if you suggest it – whether they take it or not – you still can’t promise them anything. Pass or fail or whatever, there’s no guarantee tied to it and there’s not necessarily a strike tied to it.”

Added another executive, “I would say it’s a very, very, very uncommon thing, but it’s my understanding that there’s nothing specifically stopping anyone from telling someone how it could impact their [evaluation]. If I say, ‘This could help you,’ I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. Now, we’ve never asked anyone to take a [lie-detector] test as part of the process, but I think it’s an extreme thing that can be considered. … I can say I’ve never seen anything that says, ‘You’re not allowed to tell a draft pick that this is something available to them.'”

Conley was removed from multiple draft boards in the lead-up to Thursday night’s first round, after being named as a suspect in an alleged sexual assault in a Cleveland hotel on April 9. Conley hasn’t been charged and the alleged victim has thus far declined to give a further statement to police after initially reporting the alleged assault. Conley issued a statement strongly denying the assault this week, after a police report describing the allegation sent his draft status spiraling. Then came Thursday, when multiple outlets reported that he had taken a further step for NFL teams, taking a polygraph test and issuing a statement about the results to NFL teams.

The Ravens still passed on Conley with the 16th overall pick, leaving him to be selected by the Oakland Raiders at 24th overall. Some teams had Conley inside the top-10 prospects on their board and amongst their top two available cornerbacks. But the polygraph results apparently didn’t quell concerns everywhere. One of the two teams that spoke to Yahoo Sports on Friday said Conley was still not restored to their draft board after being taken off earlier in the week.

After the Raiders took Conley, general manager Reggie McKenzie indicated the franchise did an advanced dive on him that ultimately quelled any fears.

“We did our due diligence throughout this whole process and we trust our research, reports, everything that we have on Mr. Conley,” McKenzie said. “We feel really good about picking Gareon Conley and having him join the Raider team and having him be a great teammate for our players. … I don’t want to get into all the details about who we talked to, all of that stuff. But the bottom line is we’ve done miles and miles of research to make sure we were totally comfortable with our decision, which we were.”

It remains to be seen whether the NFL will comment on polygraphs as a draft evaluation tool – or even the suggestion of them. A spokesperson for the league declined to do so Friday. But in an absence of a statement to the contrary, it’s clear some NFL franchises believe that raising the viability of lie-detector tests is something within the boundaries of their predraft work.

More NFL draft coverage from Yahoo Sports:
NFL draft: Day 2 winners and losers
How the Saints had the most heartbreaking draft ever
Every Day 2 pick graded and analyzed
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