Raiders training camp is well underway and this brings excitement and the usual cynics.
Along with Khalil Mack’s holdout, Gareon Conley has dominated conversations across the NFL spectrum. Conley entered this offseason with the training wheels off and appeared ready to move past his injury-plagued rookie season. One practice in, however, and the injury bug struck again as Conley sprained his hip. Per usual, the “Twitterverse” was unrelenting regarding Conley and his on the field availability, dubbing the second-year corner a “bust.”
It’s time for it to end (for the time being) and here’s why.
Actually understanding what a “bust” is in today’s convoluted NFL ramblings may be difficult, however, it will help disprove the falsehoods surrounding Conley’s name. At some point, the term “bust” was used to label early round draft selections that didn’t become an immediate pro bowl level player. This is absolute nonsense.
On draft day, NFL teams alike must assess everything (on the field and off) about a player before deciding to make their selection. Some picks are riskier than others, all for a variety of reasons, but each team must decide if the possible reward outweighs the potential risk.
Furthermore, a collegiate career that features a clean bill of health but is subsequently followed by the opposite in the pro’s, the term bust isn’t an appropriate description. If a player was haunted by injuries in college and is selected early, only to have the injuries continue, that is a bust. In that case, the evaluation process failed or the team accepted the risk factor and was willing to take the negative outcome.
In terms of Gareon Conley, some claimed he was a top-10 talent despite him falling to pick No. 24 for an off the field issue that was completely vindicated. Also working in Conley’s favor, while at Ohio State, he never missed a game due to injury. Additionally, to the credit of Conley is the sample size we have been given. According to Pro Football Focus, in the 56 snaps Conley played in coverage, he allowed 0.63 yards per snap. In comparison to the 156 cornerbacks that played over 50 snaps, Conley was seventh.
Yes, this statistic is reflective of a small amount of work and we shouldn’t draw significant conclusions from this single data point. However, the same must be said for the flip side and the “bust” label being thrown around. When a team is in the situation the Raiders find themselves in with Conley and his ability for the most part still being unproven, some reach conclusions by saying there is a “hole” at that position. Oakland doesn’t have a lack of talent at the position, they have a player who hasn’t been able to fully showcase his talent, other than the two games he played last season.
General manager Reggie McKenzie took a risk at the time of Conley’s selection with looming legal trouble afoot, but there was no conviction, and the risky pick appears to have paid off. The risk McKenzie had to take had nothing to do with Conley’s on the field talent, so when freak injuries have struck early and a little too often, the bust label is flat out wrong. When a proven college player is given a chance to prove themselves in the NFL and they don’t succeed, that is what a bust looks like.
Here’s what is known about Conley:
- He was a high-value pick at a position of need for the Raiders when they selected him.
- After not having a significant injury in college, he had a freak injury likely caused by overworking and a change in athletic programs all while being rushed back to the field.
- When on the field, Conley made a positive impact for the defense but dealing with pain is what kept him sidelined for the majority of last season.
The real issue at hand with Conley is not about whether he is currently a bust, but if he will turn out to be a bust. As of now, his play on the field has justified the place the Raiders drafted him at.
First and foremost, right now, Conley must get healthy. After requiring surgery to repair his injured shin in 2017 and now hip issues, his health is priority No. 1. Often times when someone goes through the ailments Conley suffered from, the body will compensate by overworking other muscles, and this could potentially be a reason for the current setback.
The focus on Gareon Conley should be fixated on the future. There should remain a high level of attention to detail with his play on the field, but to beat him up over injuries and toss out unfair labels is ridiculous.
So far Conley has impressed the coaching staff and has continued to put in work. While Paul Gutierrez of ESPN reported Gruden is ‘disappointed’ with what has happened to Conley, Gutierrez also stated that Conley was “working on a side field with a trainer, doing resistance-band work” on Monday. All in all, Conley is not a bust, rather he is a player coming off a rookie season cut short by bad luck.
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