The San Francisco 49ers need help in the secondary and at this point in the season, help is hard to find.
Throughout the season, San Francisco has walked the line between mediocre and just plain bad as a pass defense. Per the NFL, the 49ers are fifth-worst in the league in opposing completion percentage (68.6,) and are tied for second-to-last in total interceptions, putting up just six on the year.
They’re middle of the pack in other passing categories, ranking 13th in the NFL in passing touchdowns allowed (21) for example. But there’s no question they could use a new body, and preferably someone with experience and upside.
This is where Gareon Conley comes in. The former Las Vegas Raiders corner remains a free agent after an unceremonious exit from the Houston Texans at the end of last season. The options are slim, but there are on-field reasons to think Conley would be a good fit.
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Gareon Conley’s NFL Career
After winning a national championship and playing a large majority of three seasons with Ohio State, Conley entered the 2017 NFL Draft and was taken as the 24th overall pick by the Raiders.
Unfortunately, Conley’s big red flag is his injury history, and that started early on. He struggled with a shin injury, only played two games and was placed on injury reserve, as Mercury News covered.
But his return in 2018 showed why he was a first-round talent. In 14 starts, he recorded three picks, 15 passes defended and a 92.2 passer rating, per Pro Football Refence. That rating may seem a little higher than preferred. However, consider that PFR also states that starting corners Josh Norman and Ambry Thomas came into the 49ers’ Thursday night loss to the Titans with 103.2 and 153.8 ratings respectively.
After a lackluster start in 2019 with the Raiders, general manager Mike Mayock decided to cash in and trade Conley six weeks into the season for a third-round pick in 2020, according to NFL.com.
Similar to 2018, Conley again showed his potential by registering 11 passes defended in six starts with Houston. He only allowed a catch rate of 52.2 percent and an opposing passer rating of 87.1.
Unfortunately, the second major injury issue of Conley’s career happened after the impressive start in Texas. According to Aaron Wilson, he had ankle surgery and the recovery went awry.
At the end of the season, he became a free agent and has yet to sign anywhere. It’s not completely clear if he’s recovered completely, but there was buzz in the 49ers community earlier on this year.
San Francisco 49ers Universe Suggested Conley
When the 49ers were looking for cornerback help early on in the season, Conley was floated quite a few times as a fit in Santa Clara. Bleacher Report’s Maurice Moton had both a joke and a take on the matter.
Eric Crocker also threw out his two cents, saying that he would’ve contacted Conley before Dre Kirkpatrick, who ended up being released from the team in November.
It’s clear that Conley had the talent to play at a starting level in the NFL, but two major injuries has sidetracked his career. The 49ers need to add someone to the mix at the corner position and if Conley is healthy and eager, he’d likely be available for the league minimum. Plus, he is young enough that it could pay out as a short-term and long-term investment.