Oakland Raiders: McKenzie Rolls The Dice, Hopes It Won’t Blow Up In His Face

Nov 26, 2016; Columbus, OH, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes cornerback Gareon Conley (8) gets the crowd into the game during the second quarter against the Michigan Wolverines at Ohio Stadium. Ohio State won 30-27. Mandatory Credit: Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 26, 2016; Columbus, OH, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes cornerback Gareon Conley (8) gets the crowd into the game during the second quarter against the Michigan Wolverines at Ohio Stadium. Ohio State won 30-27. Mandatory Credit: Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports /

Oakland Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie made one of the more surprising – and controversial – picks in the first round, and now must sit and hope it doesn’t blow up in his face.

Oakland Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie, for the most part, has steered clear of adding players to his roster who might be considered controversial, or have red flags about their character. The emphasis on character and good locker room guys has changed the culture in Oakland, and has put a cohesive, drama-free team on the field.

But with his first pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, McKenzie made the round’s most surprising – and potentially controversial – picks in selecting Ohio State cornerback Gareon Conley.

Stop us if you’ve heard this one before. Back in 2013, McKenzie used a first round pick on a cornerback that had plenty of red flags – though, most all of the knocks on D.J. Hayden were due to health issues. Though, some other flags were raised about his work ethic and dedication to his craft.

Given that Hayden is now a member of the Lions after four lackluster, injury-plagued, penalty-prone seasons, it’s safe to say that McKenzie’s roll of the dice four years ago came up snake eyes.

Now, the organization and its fans have to hold their collective breath and hope that we’re not seeing history repeating itself – albeit, with a very different and far more serious set of circumstances.

Just days before the Draft, Conley – widely viewed as a first round talent – was accused of sexually assaulting a woman in a Cleveland hotel. Just to be clear, it seems to bear repeating. Although he has yet to be arrested or formally charged, Conley – Oakland’s first round pick this season – is being investigated for rape.

Now, according to McKenzie, the organization did “miles and miles” of research on Conley and the situation before turning in their draft card. And they felt that Conley would be cleared of any and all wrongdoing and that they were “confident in all the information they’d gathered.”

"“Bottom line, we’ve done miles and miles of research to make sure we were totally comfortable with our decision, which we were.”"

Well, bully for McKenzie. Ultimately though, it’s not going to be McKenzie or any of his research/investigation team who will be deciding Conley’s fate in the legal system.

Oakland Raiders
Nov 5, 2016; Columbus, OH, USA; Nebraska Cornhuskers wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp (1) cannot pull in a pass in the first quarter under pressure from Ohio State Buckeyes cornerback Gareon Conley (8) at Ohio Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports /

Conley has repeatedly professed his innocence in the situation and points to the polygraph test he passed as proof of that. It should go without saying by this point, that polygraphs aren’t the most reliable things when attempting to ferret out the truth, nor are they admissible in court as evidence of one’s innocence.

It very well could be that Conley is absolutely, unequivocally, 100 percent innocent. But with the investigation still open and ongoing – and Conley expected to meet with Cleveland police on Monday – it’s a situation that is far, far from over.

An arrest, formal charges, and possibly even an indictment against Conley may still be forthcoming. The specter of a rape trial is hanging over Raiders HQ right now, no matter how well McKenzie is trying to spin and downplay it.

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Because even though McKenzie and his “miles and miles” of research may believe that Conley is innocent, Conley’s fate won’t be determined in Oakland. If an overzealous prosecutor wants to do some grandstanding and make an example of Conley, there is nothing McKenzie can do. If a prosecutor simply believes the accuser – and doesn’t believe Conley – there is nothing McKenzie can do.

Indictments are easy to obtain. Basically, if a prosecutor wants and indictment, they’re going to get it in virtually every case. So, Conley’s fate will be up to the whims of a prosecuting attorney half a country away – and there is nothing McKenzie can do about it.

From a purely football standpoint, you can see why McKenzie would go all in on Conley – especially given the upgrades needed in the secondary. The cornerback is widely considered one of the best in college football and a first round talent.

As a player and considering nothing but a football perspective, Conley to the Raiders makes sense.

But with this incident looming over his head – and like it or not, the uncertainty of Conley’s situation will continue to loom until he’s cleared – using the team’s first round pick on him is a big time risk. A big time risk. They may believe in Conley’s innocence – and he very well may be innocent – but the decision about his situation won’t be adjudicated in Oakland.

And there’s absolutely nothing McKenzie can do about it.

The pick has been made and now all the organization can do is cross their fingers, hold their breath, and hope that the “miles and miles” of research they did pays off. Hope that whatever inside information they undoubtedly are being fed is accurate. And hope that Conley is indeed telling the truth about that night in Cleveland.

All they can do at this point, is sit back and hope this pick doesn’t blow up in their faces.