2017 NFL Draft Player Profiles: Ohio State CB Gareon Conley

during the 2016 PlayStation Fiesta Bowl at University of Phoenix Stadium on December 31, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona.

From now until the 2017 NFL Draft takes place, we hope to showcase as many prospects as possible and examine both their strengths and weaknesses. Most of these profiles will feature individuals that the Pittsburgh Steelers are likely to have an interest in, while a few others will be top-ranked players. If there is a player you would like us to analyze, let us know in the comments below.

Gareon Conley/CB/Ohio State — 6’0”, 195 Lbs

The Good

-Comfortable playing man or zone
-Reads QBs eyes well and has a natural feel for position leverage in coverage
-Above-average ball skills for position
-Has a knack for winning battles in the air with great hand-eye coordination
-Sticky cover man that is able to stay glued to hip pocket in man coverage
-Desired frame, length and athleticism for position
-Scheme-versatile corner

The Bad

-Not a physical run defender
-Struggles with consistency and technique as a tackler
-Heavy feet in backpedal; plays through heels too much
-Takes bad angles and runs himself out of plays at times
-Really labors to get off blocks on the boundary
-Can be manhandled by receivers with very little blocking skills
-Becomes handsy when receiver gains a step, which leads to flags
-Prone to the big play because he labors to get out of backpedal
-Athletic, yet mechanical in COD

Bio

-2016 All-Big Ten Second Team
-Played in 41 games at Ohio State (26 starts)
-Recorded six career interceptions and 91 career tackles over three seasons
-Redshirted in 2013 but is a four-year member of the Buckeyes

Tape Breakdown:

Ohio State has become sort of a defensive back factory over the last few years with Eli Apple and Bradley Roby becoming first round picks in the last two of the last three NFL drafts.

The Buckeyes should add two more to that list this year with redshirt sophomore cornerback Marshon Lattimore and junior safety Malik Hooker, but while those two get the majority of the hype and accolades for the Buckeyes, redshirt junior cornerback Gareon Conley was a big part of one of the best pass defenses in the country last season.

Conley, a 6-foot, 195-pound cornerback, was one of the more underrated cover corners in all of college football last season, showing the ability to play tight man-to-man coverage off the ball or on the line in press, as well as dropping into zone coverage for the Buckeyes under Urban Meyer.

As a cover corner, Conley often matched up with his opponents’ top receiver and even had a coming out game against Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl, playing a big role in holding Mike Williams to just 96 yards receiving on six catches while also hauling in an interception early in the game to give Ohio State great field position.

Conley has a great feel for the position when it comes to leverage, positioning and anticipation of a route, which is what he does here against Williams.

This is likely an interception regardless of if Williams can stay on his feet or not because Conley reads what Williams is doing, anticipates the out cut and finds the football for the big interception in the College Football Playoff game.

Along with being a very good cover corner that is able to adapt to any scheme, whether it’s zone, man or press-man, Conley also has some fairly impressive ball skills as a cornerback.

He does a great job of winning the battle in the air, getting a hand on the football and then reeling it in for the big interception on the road late in the game against the Badgers.

But early in the clip you can see him playing through his heels right at the start of his backpedal, which is a habit he needs to break.

He has too much athleticism and long speed to be playing through his heels at the start of the play, giving receivers an advantage early in the route.

Fortunately for him, this play was against a Wisconsin receiver that isn’t really a true homerun threat, so playing through his heels didn’t cost him, but when this happens against speedy receivers, he tends to lose early in the route and gets handsy once the receiver has a step on him, leading to flags down the field.

It would help if he actually utilized the press technique when at the line of scrimmage to slow the receiver down, but much like his teammate Lattimore, he’s a very minuscule part of his game.

I’m not sure if that’s the way Ohio State teaches it or not, but it doesn’t make much sense to play at the line and then not press.

I have one final clip here of him struggling with his footwork early in routes for you.

You would think with the way Conley is lined up here that he’s more worried about getting beat to the inside by the Michigan slot receiver, but at the start of the route he seems more concerned with covering the out route, which leaves him vulnerable to the in-breaking route, which Michigan runs to perfection here.

At the very top of his stem, Conley is a bit slow to plant and change directions, and I think a lot of that has to do with heavy feet early in coverage. He struggles with balance in these situations because he has so much weight on his feet that it’s almost like he’s moving in concrete shoes at times.

Outside of his skills (and deficiencies) as a cover corner, Conley is a big turnoff when it comes to a run defender and tackler.

That seems to be a problem most of the time with Ohio State corners as Conley reminds me of Apple from last year in this regard.

Granted, Conley’s role is a shutdown cover corner for the Buckeyes, but it’s really discouraging to see him get manhandled on the edge time and time again against the run when he’s not hesitant to fill his lane against the run.

And even when he’s in position to make a stop in the open field, his technique and effort are rather poor, leading to big plays.

In the clip above Conley does a nice job of flowing to his right with the blocker before disengaging to fill the hole, but the effort and technique to wrap up just isn’t there as Wisconsin’s Corey Clement just rolls right through him on his way to a 68-yard run.

That’s just unacceptable by Conley, especially when he’s right there to make the play. Those types of gaffes at the next level will push him to the bench.

You have to be able to tackle and have some physicality to your game, and I just don’t see it consistently from Conley.  Should he be able to correct this at the next level, he’ll thrive because he already has the coverage skills, but it’s the other little things that can make or break a career.

Despite playing in 41 games at Ohio State, I still think Conley is a project heading into the NFL and could have really served him well by staying for his senior season with the Buckeyes to work on his tackling and physicality.

It was a gamble to come out this year, especially in a loaded corner class, so let’s see if the redshirt junior’s decision pays off for him.

I do think he’ll get drafted somewhere late in the third round because of his coverage skills, but whichever team drafts him has to have a plan for him. They can’t just throw him to the wolves and hope he somehow learns how to be physical and tackle in the pros.

Projection:  Late Day Two

Games Watched:  vs. Indiana (’16), at Wisconsin (’16), at Penn State (’16), vs. Nebraska (’16), vs. Michigan (’16), vs. Clemson (’16)

Previous 2017 NFL Draft Player Profiles
Deshaun WatsonHaason ReddickMarshon LattimoreCorey ClementTim Williams
Jourdan LewisTakkarist McKinleyBrad KaayaNathan PetermanO.J. Howard
Charles HarrisAlvin KamaraTyus BowserDavid NjokuDeMarcus Walker
Chidobe AwuzieDeShone KizerMarlon MackCameron SuttonZach Cunningham
Corey DavisCarl LawsonPatrick MahomesKareem HuntEvan Engram
Derek RiversRyan AndersonJoshua DobbsJordan LeggettSamaje Perine
Corn ElderBucky HodgesJames ConnerCooper KuppStanley Williams
Fred RossJamaal WilliamsGeorge KittleEjuan PriceChris Wormley
Jeremy McNicholsJoe MathisDerek BarnettAmba Etta-Tawo

  • Spencer Krick

    I don’t think the Steelers need/want another DB who can’t tackle.

  • Levon Kirkland

    Late in the 3rd?? So you disagree that strongly with the consensus late 1st / early 2nd projection out there? Tall/athletic/fast/ball skills & you have him late in the third? You know Apple went 10 overall right?

  • VaDave

    I don’t about this kid, but the coach behind him in the article header pic has an decent vertical.

  • Josh Carney

    If I agreed with the consensus for every prospect I watched, there’d be no need for Steelers Depot to have me on here. I like his size, athleticism and ball skills, but he’s a major liability as a tackler. I didn’t like Apple as a first round guy last year either. Still don’t. Value just isn’t there. Conley can be a good pro, but he’s not worth a first or second round pick for me. He’s nowhere near as good as his own teammate in Lattimore.

  • Levon Kirkland

    Your specific wording suggested you thought he’d go late 3rd. You did not write “If I were GM I’d only take him late 3rd.” So, which is it?

  • Josh Carney

    My projection in MY grade. I wouldn’t touch him until R3. We’re not projection where they’ll go, we’re projecting where we personally think they SHOULD go. Giving a guy a grade and mocking where they’ll go are two largely different things.

  • Josh Carney

    Now, others on here might be doing it differently/interpreting “projection” in a much different way for me, but when we started I was under assumption that projection was our grade for him, not where we think he’ll actually go. It’s easier to do a day instead of a round (Dave’s words). So me saying Conley’s projection is Late Day 3, that’s me saying I think he’s a third round prospect, in terms of grading.

  • T3xassteelers

    I’m with you Josh! Pass for me.

  • GoSteelerz

    I am so tired of DB’s that can’t get off blocks and/or tackle to save their lives. It’s like a plague in college football and it’s becoming a problem in the pros now too. Can’t stand it… Don’t high school and college coaches go over this stuff? Football defense 101, be physical and tough, shed blocks, make tackles. Gosh, if you want to just run around and be fast, join the track team!!!!

  • Levon Kirkland

    Got it. Thanks for clarifying, I read your wording to mean the opposite.

  • Levon Kirkland

    You noted you didn’t have apple rated as a 1st rounder. Now that we know Jerry Reese deemed him a 10th overall talent, do you maintain your position he shouldn’t have gone in 1st & Jerry made a huge mistake? If not the 1st, where would you have taken him? Late 3rd?

  • Levon Kirkland

    Late round 3 or late day 3? Very different.

  • Levon Kirkland

    Is it too crazy to ask you all to give a grade AND mock where they’ll go (ballpark at least)? The grading/analysis is great but major problem with online draft analysis is after reading your strengths the prospect sounds like a future HOFer & at the end of the weaknesses I don’t think he can make it in the Canadien football league. Your opinion on where they’ll go is very helpful to us steeler fans as we try to determine legitimate candidates for the team in respective rounds. While it’s cute for you all to tell us where you’d take the player if you were GM, it is useless to me as steeler fan knowing Luc polglaze wouldn’t take Keanu Neal until the 4th round when future nfc champion atlanta falcons grade him as a top 20 pick.

  • LucasY59

    maybe with the comp pick, he would have time to work on his technique more (Burns and Cockrell are starting this yr and a rookie isnt likely to get snaps on the outside) he could develop into a guy that could challenge Ross for the starter spot

  • LucasY59

    Lattimore is the 1st rd guy, Conley has been 2nd rd (at the earliest) on pretty much all of the sites I have seen, I think the negatives Josh points out are legitimate and he could still be available in the 3rd (especially since the depth at the position is good in this draft)

  • LucasY59

    if you dont like the draft profiles dont read them

  • Josh Carney

    I think Conley goes middle of round 2, but I think he’s a round 3 player. If he’s there with the new comp pick Pittsburgh just got, I’d snap him up and not think twice.

  • Levon Kirkland

    I’m reading them. Appreciating the content. Hoping/asking for the best possible information/analysis. What exactly is your point/perspective? If you don’t like my comments/questions don’t read them

  • LucasY59

    you just seem to complain a lot, but we’ve already had this conversation and the authors have explained themselves multiple times so dont worry I will be glad to ignore you

  • Levon Kirkland

    Thank you, I was worried

  • SoCal Steeler

    I’d be ok with using one of our 3rd round picks on him but like Josh said he’ll probably go in Rd. 2.. If he was available though we could just use him in pass coverage the 1st year while the coaches work on his tackling.

  • Jon Crissinger

    The stuff that’s listed as a negative… he’s shown he can be physical and make the plays, he just needs to do it with consistency. The tackling is the main issue, but his ball skills are so good and he’s a perfect zone corner right now. He needs to get better in man, but that’s because he doesn’t use his hands… Like at all. Doesn’t punch, doesn’t keep a hand on his man when he turns around etc. All very coachable things. His potential is through the roof. Even higher than Burns in my opinion. All he needs to do is get the tackling and hand usage down and he’s as good of a corner as Sean Smith or Aqib Talib without the off field issues. I would bet money he’s a first round pick. Especially now that Sidney Jones is hurt and Teez Tabor ran slow