Many who follow the Raiders closely expect them to look into drafting a cornerback with one of their first round picks this season.
Guys like Kristian Fulton, CJ Henderson, and Trevon Diggs could all be in play at with either of those selections, but if the Raiders elect to wait on the cornerback position, they’ll be interested in bringing in one of the talented, yet flawed corners likely to slip into the third round.
Ohio State’s Damon Arnette is one of such players, and he likely would’ve been drafted last season had he not unexpectedly come back for his senior year.
Arnette is is a boundary corner who occasionally lined up at the nickel spot across his career. He primarily plays Cover 3 with outside leverage and has been trusted to play more and more press-bail as his technique has improved. He took over the starting nickel role early on in his sophomore season before transitioning to the boundary role, and he maintained his starting role despite playing for three different defensive backs coaches in that time.
Competitively, Arnette is a dog who toes the line between chippy play and composure well. He has been very durable over his career and has never suffered a major injury. He has thick, powerful legs, a skinny waist and above average arm length that makes him more sturdy than the average cornerback at his height (5-foot-11).
Arnette is sticky in Cover 3 due to consistent technique and the ability to stay in-phase and on top of receivers. He is flexible enough to maintain leverage when flipping his hips to turn and run, but some hip stiffness is evident when he matches up with faster receivers and can’t stay hip-to-hip out of phase. He has grown to have good eye discipline over the years, as he reads receivers’ eyes to and gets his head around to break up passes.
He’s not the type to take chances or gamble on making a big play because he knows he’ll get dusted if he guesses incorrectly. Therein lies the problem with Arnette’s game, as he’s lacking in closing speed and a fifth gear when the ball is in the air. Arnette is experienced and knows his limitations, so while he doesn’t always show the elite flashes of athleticism or ball skills that his fellow Ohio State cornerbacks do, he plays patiently and technically and rarely gives up big plays. Former NFL player and current Buckeye WR coach Brian Hartline suggested that Arnette could run a top 10 40-yard dash time at the NFL combine, but that speed doesn’t show through on film.
When pressing, Arnette almost exclusively plays with a bail-technique, as he doesn’t trust his makeup speed to catch up to his man if he’s beaten off the line. He throws a strong right-handed jab that stuns receivers often, but rarely mixes things up.
Ohio State’s Damon Arnette (@damon_arnette) is a corner I’ll be watching closely at the @seniorbowl. His coverage against Indiana earlier this season was textbook, watch how he deflects the ball at the last second on this fade ball. Excellent coverage.#WNSFilm pic.twitter.com/Dq6dk1zr2x— Devin Jackson (@RealD_Jackson) December 16, 2019
As a nickel, Arnette mans up with tight ends and big-bodied receivers well, keeping them on his shoulder with regularity. But when matched up against a jitterbug in space, he will get beat on quick-hitting routes and deep balls if he doesn’t throw off their route timing with the right-handed jab he often throws. In other words, don’t expect this guy to stick with Tyreek Hill on a go route.
While Arnette is very aggressive as a run defender, he isn’t a deterrent or major force on the boundary. He will lay a forceful strike with his shoulder in a crowded area, but in space he throws himself at the opposition’s ankles and hopes for the best rather than squaring up to wrap-and-roll. He’s stronger than the average corner, with five years in the Ohio State weight room, which allows him to handle tackling bigger backs without being run over. He sheds stalk blocks well, stacking his blocker with long arms and shedding them with relative ease once the opposing runner makes a decision. Against blocking tight ends with longer arms than him, Arnette gets manhandled and driven back, but remains chippy and energetic in pursuit and even after the whistle.
This guy won’t wow anybody with elite athleticism, but he will provide steady play and enough versatility to play multiple spots along the secondary. Drafting Arnette certainly wouldn’t be a quick fix band aid for the Raiders secondary by himself, but he’s a high character guy with a high floor and a chippy demeanor that feels like a Raider attitude.
Draft Range: Early third to mid-fourth round