The cornerback position continues to be one of a hot button topic for Eagles fans. After all, the team did not address the position at all in free agency and only Jalen Mills is left from last year's top group of guys; not exactly an encouraging reality for a team that's dire situation at cornerback was a liability for the team before most of the guys left. Now, not only does the team need cornerbacks, there is nothing else for them to do besides heavily addressing the position through the draft. Luckily, and probably deliberately, the team picked a good year to have such a need. As has been stated and restored time and time again, this class has a nice variety of prospects who bring a diverse set of skills and styles. Gareon Conley is one of many cornerbacks who have not only been mentioned in the first round, but linked to the Eagles through multiple big media mock drafts.
Conley shared a field with two other outstanding secondary prospects in Marshon Lattimore and Malik Hooker. It is incredibly likely that all three of them are drafted in the first 20 picks in the draft. Despite the hype on the other two, it is Conley who is the most experienced of the trio. Lattimore and Hooker were first year starters where Conley was on his second year of starting and third year of seeing the field. Lattimore and Hooker are better players, but there is a lot to like a bout Conley in his own way.
First of all, Conley is built and tuned the way NFL corners should. At six foot and 195 pounds with 33 inch arms, Conley has the size NFL teams want on the perimeter of their defenses. To sweeten the deal even more, Conley is a gifted athlete with speed, agility and explosion. This is a great foundation for Conley and it turns out he is a lot more than just a good athlete.
In 2016, Conley allowed a 33% completion percentage into his coverage while picking off four passes, breaking up seven more and only allowing a single touchdown. It is not hard to see that Gareon Conley is a very apt cover cornerback.
Due to his athletic ability and impressive footwork, it is incredibly rare to see Conley give up ground in coverage. He is an effortless mover and he changes direction so smoothly that it is incredible difficult for even the most savvy receivers to get a step on him.
Once again, Conley gives up no ground and perfectly times a jump to make a play on the ball.
Some of this play happens out of frame, but it is a good example of the fact that Conley is more than just a fast cornerback who can run verticals. His route recognition is also very impressive. He comes from off coverage to make an impressive play on a comeback route. Conley's ability to play the receiver in man coverage and also play what is in front of him so well is very impressive attribute in terms of schematic versatility at the NFL level.
While the quarterback kinda lollipops this pass, Conley's breaking downhill from his zone to make a play on his pass is another example of his above the shoulders approach to cornerback play. A lot of great athletes at the college level can win with their athleticism alone and often play that way, but Conley is a savvy player with great awareness and technique.
Another aspect of Conley's game to like is the versatility he has where Ohio State lined him up on both sides of the field and in the slot, all where he was able to show the same level of aptitude.
Against what many to consider the best receiver in the 2017 class, Conley wins on the route almost immediately and is able to come up with an interception. Some may credit the interception to Williams falling down, but Conley had beat him on the play well before that and actually ran the route for him. Deshaun Watson had the ball out on Williams' breaking point in the route and Conley's closing speed allowed him to pick off the pass.
This is also one of the rare instances where Conley effectively gets his hands on a player to impact the play in his favor. For all of his good, Gareon Conley's success is mostly predicated on his great footwork and athletic ability. He is far from the type of player who likes to get physical either in coverage or as a tackler.
Conley not only shows passivity as a tackler, but his form is horrendous as well. He fails to square up, he tackles too high and he does not drive through the hit. It is fair to say that tackling should never be the first thing a team prioritizes with cornerbacks, but if it is so bad that opposing teams are running to that side of the field or running screens at the cornerback because they know he will give up yards after catch, it becomes problematic.
Conley fails to stay home, completely gives up the edge of the and fails on an absolutely terrible tackle attempt and gives up massive yardage because of it. It is frustrating to see this from a player who is not exactly giving up size to these players. Conley is a well built player and the fact that he gets rag dolled in the run game and as a tackler is a bit sad.
I mean, it's just kinda sad at this point.
Conley is very much a finesse player and while that works well for him, it really limits what he brings to a defense at the next level. Not only is he this massive liability in run support and tackling, but he can get bullied by more physical wide receivers too, of which there are a lot more in the NFL then the Big 10. Luckily, this is not a physical limitation and certainly something he can improve on. However, it is concerning.
NFL Comparison: Though he is a bit bigger, Gareon Conley is similar to Robert Alford coming out as a draft prospect. Both are incredibly gifted athletes who win with their athletic ability and polished coverage ability, but lack physicality and could use a kick in the pants in the run game.
Despite a lack of physicality, it is easy to understand why teams would love Conley as a prospect. The size, speed and coverage ability is tantalizing. He schematically would fit well in Philadelphia, though I wonder how Jim Schwartz would feel about his lack of physicality. Overall, even with his shortcomings, Conley is the modern NFL cornerback and, even in a deep class, has the skill set to be a top twenty pick and an immediate starter in the NFL.