Reggie McKenzie 'totally convinced' Raiders' Gareon Conley pick is safe

Oakland GM Reggie McKenzie tells SN the Raiders are "very comfortable" with their selection of Gareon Conley. For his sake, McKenzie better be right.

Even though more post-draft questions have emerged about the potential involvement of new Oakland cornerback Gareon Conley in a sexual assault, Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie isn’t sweating whether criminal charges will be filed.

McKenzie reiterated Wednesday night that he remains confident Conley will be exonerated from a claim that caused the Ohio State standout’s first-round slip in last week’s NFL Draft.

"We researched everything thoroughly and were totally convinced," McKenzie told co-host Gil Brandt and me on SiriusXM NFL Radio. "We felt good about what was presented before us.

"We were very comfortable with the pick."

For his sake, McKenzie better be right.

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As great a job as McKenzie has done rebuilding the Raiders — he was named 2016 Sporting News Executive of the Year — he will be heavily vilified if Conley is charged or ultimately convicted.

And understandably so.

It wasn't like the risk of drafting Conley was unknown to McKenzie before the corner was selected at No. 24. News had broken roughly two days earlier that Cleveland police were investigating claims made by a female accuser who alleged she was raped during a late-night encounter in early April. Police administered a sexual assault kit to the accuser, for which Conley submitted his DNA earlier this week. NFL Network reported results won’t be known for six to eight weeks, although the standard SAK processing times can vary.


While an Xs-and-Os argument could be made that Conley should have gotten picked earlier, the possibility of a sexual assault charge — and the negative public and media brouhaha that would follow — was likely enough to scare away potential suitors.

Conley became the fourth cornerback chosen behind college teammate Marshon Lattimore (New Orleans), Alabama’s Marlon Humphrey (Baltimore) and Southern Cal’s Adoree’ Jackson (Tennessee).

There are questions surrounding the validity of claims from both parties. Video shows Conley and the accuser were together at a nightclub, which contradicts her initial claim that she met him at a hotel. Conley’s attorney told the media earlier this week that a "consensual sexual event" with the accuser occurred that night despite the player issuing a pre-draft statement deferring to witnesses in his hotel room who claimed they never saw such interaction.

Asked whether any new post-draft information surfaced that the Raiders didn’t already know about, McKenzie said, “Absolutely not."

McKenzie told Raiders media the franchise did “miles and miles” of research in vetting Conley. That carries weight. So does the fact that during his five-plus seasons at the helm, McKenzie has made off-field character an important part of the decision-making process when acquiring a player. No player on the active roster has gotten arrested since 2014, per USA Today.

McKenzie, though, isn’t above taking a gamble if he believes it can help win games. That strategy blew up in his face with the 2015 signing of Aldon Smith.

Despite the edge rusher’s long history of DUIs, McKenzie signed Smith to a free-agent contract following his latest arrest and subsequent release by San Francisco. Smith was suspended midway through the 2015 campaign because of that incident and hasn’t played since, failing to regain reinstatement by the NFL last year under the league’s substance-abuse policy.

The Raiders stuck with Smith by re-signing him in the 2016 offseason. Their faith was not rewarded. Smith had a domestic violence claim filed against him in February and was detained for public intoxication in March after the driver of a car he was in was arrested for suspected DUI following a hit-and-run.

Smith remains under contract with the Raiders, but whether he ever takes the field again for the franchise is in serious doubt.

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Unlike Smith, Conley had no criminal history or red flags in his background before joining the Raiders. Conley may very well be cleared and have the incident become a footnote in his past while enjoying a prolific NFL career.

"He really is a good player," said McKenzie, whose team fielded the NFL’s 24th-ranked pass defense last season.

"I’ve got nothing to say but great things about him as a worker and as a person and player. We’re very excited about the person we’re getting."

McKenzie, though, shouldn’t celebrate too much until he knows for sure he didn’t waste a first-round pick and embarrass himself (and the Raiders) in the process.

Alex Marvez can be heard from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. ET Thursday on SiriusXM NFL Radio.


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