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Raiders need to be correct in judgment of Gareon Conley

Updated April 28, 2017 - 1:46 am

ALAMEDA, Calif. — It was early Thursday when Forrest Gump was quoted denouncing the Oakland Raiders relocating to Las Vegas.

Hours later, general manager Reggie McKenzie made a first-round selection in the NFL draft that, for the franchise’s sake, better not prove to be stupid is as stupid does.

Just when you thought the day’s most controversial headline regarding the Raiders would be lifelong fan Tom Hanks disagreeing with the team’s move to Southern Nevada, McKenzie used the 24th overall choice on a player with the sort of silver and black cloud hovering over his resume that defines the pick as risky and, well, a bit brash.

The Raiders took junior cornerback Gareon Conley out of Ohio State, which on its face was a predictable and intelligent decision based on the fact if Oakland has any chance of making all those trendy Super Bowl predictions become reality, it needs to upgrade defensively.

But the face arrives with a major blemish.

Conley slid down draft boards after a woman accused him of rape in a Cleveland hotel room April 9. There were statements from the woman about group sex and her preferring to watch than take part, and then Conley allegedly assaulting her before kicking her out of the room.

No arrests have been made. No charges have been filed. Conley has strongly denied the accusations, took and passed a polygraph test requested by an NFL team (not the Raiders) and has agreed to meet with and provide authorities with a DNA sample on Monday.

For now, it’s nothing more than an ongoing investigation with a player who is adamant he did nothing wrong and his new team assured he’s telling the truth.

“We did our due diligence throughout this whole process, and we trust our research, reports, everything we have on Mr. Conley,” McKenzie said. “We feel really good about having him join the Raiders, and having him be a great teammate. The research was done. It wasn’t just a gut (feeling). It was based on research, and we are very confident in all the information we got.

“I don’t want to get into all the details about who we talked to. The bottom line is, we’ve done miles and miles of research to make sure we were totally comfortable with our decision, which we were. We feel really good about the pick and where it’s going.”

They better, because they can’t be wrong.

They can’t swing and miss in a manner that would prove disastrous if Conley is found to have committed such a heinous act.

His draft position calls for a $5.8 million signing bonus on a four-year rookie contract worth $10.5 million. You can’t flirt with the idea of what would be essentially forfeiting a first-round pick because your research doesn’t prove reliable.

There is no question the Raiders are feeling pretty good about themselves, what with such a high-powered offense returning and a defensive player of the year in Khalil Mack anchoring the other side and the arrival of running back Marshawn Lynch this week.

The decision to then take Conley absolutely comes with a hint of self-confidence that all is headed in the right direction and nothing can impede obvious progress.

Which very well could prove true.

Which is fine if everything checks out and the only thing Conley is known for with the Raiders is being a long, athletic, skilled, versatile player at a position in need of quality depth.

“My mom always tells me to keep faith, and I thank God the call (from Oakland) came,” Conley said via conference call Thursday night. “It has been an emotional week. I’m very confident this will be resolved with all the evidence I have.

“I could have made way better judgment. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. I definitely could have made better decisions.”

He’s right about that.

At best, Conley is guilty of lacking serious common sense, because there has to be far smarter things to be doing weeks from a draft in which you are guaranteed to become a multimillionaire than meeting a woman at a hotel elevator, bringing her to your room with others and somehow allowing things to escalate to the point she is notifying police and having a rape kit administered at a hospital.

Still, the Raiders never flinched in taking him, saying he was hands down the best player on their board when the time came to choose.

Time will tell if things work out the way Oakland envisions, but if you never know what you’re going to get from a box of chocolates, the Raiders better be certain what they’re getting in Gareon Conley.

Can’t swing and miss on this one.

Can’t be wrong about a guy when insisting you’re so right.

Contact columnist Ed Graney at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “Seat and Ed” on Fox Sports 98.9 FM and 1340 AM from 2 to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.

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