In the afterglow of the first round of the 2017 draft , the post-draft questions in the Bay Area surrounded two lpicks. Gareon Conley and Reuben Foster have been linked from the very moment the Raiders opted for Conley over Foster. It was painfully clear to anyone who had reviewed their depth chart that the Raiders stay woefully thin at the linebacker position. As Foster fell, RaiderNation held its collective breath as they prayed that Foster, the solution to their woes in the middle, would land right in their team’s lap. When the Raiders finally made Conley their selection, it launched a confused up-roar. No one would argue that Cornerback was some kind of luxury selection as the Raider secondary has struggled to even be pedestrian for year. However, the concern was the recently levied rape allegations that caused Conley to drop in the first place.
Ruben Foster, the Raiders’ only other real choice, was certainly no paragon of a draft selection either. Many considered Foster a top 10, maybe even top five pick in the 2017 draft. Yet, red flags dotted his pre-draft report card with a failed drug test and combine ejection. Even before that bizarre episode was the common knowledge that his shoulder was not 100% and that it may just be a ticking time bomb. The NFL at-large still coveted the supremely talented player but, as with Conley, concerns caused him to take a massive draft tumble.
The allegations brought against Conley were a page taken from the book of fumbled away careers and silenced victims. Naturally fans did not know what to do with this. Yet, if things broke wrong, he would be in prison long before he ever played a snap for the Raiders. For Foster the concern was never so large off the field, but rather physically could he survive the grind of a 16 game regular season? Yet in the 10 months since the draft the concerns have flipped and if McKenzie had to make the decision again he would likely still take the “lesser” player.
Foster has had about as up-and-down of a rookie season as any player of his talent selected in his slot. The on the field health concerns have remained as he only played eight total games. Yet the off-field problems threaten his career far more than a balky shoulder. In the last month, law enforcement cited him for speeding and possession of marijuana, arrested for potential domestic violence concerns. In addition, he could face an illegal weapons charge.
No matter how good a player is, any team would have to questions risk over reward. Indeed Foster is currently in danger of potentially losing his career, or at least forcing a reset upon himself. With the 49ers signing their presumptive franchise quarterback in Jimmy Garoppolo, Foster is no longer the face of the franchise. If this story gets any worse, or at least does not get any better, then Foster remains a cut candidate.
Raiders General Manager Reggie McKenzie should feel vindicated at this point. While Conley played fewer games (2) than Foster did, McKenzie knows he made the right choice between the two. Foster certainly has more talent, but is already on his final strike in the NFL. Conley was cleared of his allegations in March. If Conley goes on to struggle a la D.J. Hayden, it would still be an improvement over having to deal with Ruben Foster’s antics. Especially when you consider that Foster did not finish the season healthy himself.
In essence, McKenzie bought himself more time by taking the pick that, at the time, had far more controversy. Obviously, their careers are still young. Both need to develop as men and as football players. If everything breaks even from this point on, the Raiders can feel good knowing they do not have this PR nightmare on their hands.