Going into the NFL Draft, the New Orleans Saints must address the cornerback position. Delvin Breaux had a strong rookie season, but he was injured for much of the last season. P.J. Williams showed promise in his first two games; however, a severe concussion ended his season. Rumors have been spreading that the Saints are looking to trade for Malcolm Butler, but the talks between the Patriots and Saints seemed to have died down in recent weeks. If the Saints do indeed acquire the Patriots’ Malcolm Butler, the Saints will likely opt to not address corner on the first day of the draft. One player the Saints could take a look at with the eleventh pick in the draft is cornerback Gareon Conley from Ohio State.
Gareon Conley, the 6’0″ junior out of Ohio State, is one of the top corners in the upcoming draft. He is often overlooked because of his teammate that locked down the opposite side of the field, Marshon Lattimore.
Conley does plenty of things well on the football field. His ball skills are evident as displayed by four interceptions over 13 games in this past season. He routinely gets his hands on balls. Perhaps Conley’s most valuable trait is his ability to utilize his length. At 6’0″ and with 33″ arms, he has the physical abilities to play big; that length is most evident on deep vertical routes and hitches. When he succeeds in taking away the receiver’s inside release, he pushes them toward the sideline and use his length to knock away balls.
Zone coverage is also a strength of his. The New Orleans Saints played a lot of Cover 2 and Cover 3 defense. Although they’ll likely use more man coverage with improved health in the corner back room, it’ll be important that whoever the Saints nab to improve the secondary can play in zones. Conley showed strong awareness when asked to play in zone coverage. In Ohio State’s game against Wisconsin, Conley dropped into the deep third of the field. After he identified where the quarterback was looking, he came crashing down into an underneath zone to intercept the ball.
Despite his many strengths, Conley does have some weaknesses. His greatest weakness is undoubtedly in run defense. The receiver opposite him routinely knocks him back by getting access to his chest. It is rare to see him come downhill towards the line of scrimmage to disrupt and attack the run play. There are times when Conley struggles with his backpedal, and he doesn’t have the most fluid hip transition.
With some more coaching, Gareon Conley could develop into a strong cornerback in the NFL. Ohio State has become a pipeline for NFL talent in recent years, and Conley would fit in with his old teammates Michael Thomas and Vonn Bell in New Orleans.