The newly-minted Las Vegas Raiders chose Damon Arnette with their second pick of the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft. The selection has been highly criticized as a huge stretch and an overdraft by the Raiders. Let’s not be so hasty.
Picking at 19
The Raiders obtained the 19th overall pick in this year’s draft from the Chicago Bears in the much-scrutinized trade that saw defensive powerhouse Khalil Mack leave. So far, the exchange has been called a win by both teams depending on who you talk to. Nonetheless, the selection of Arnette with that pick put some fans and analysts on their heels. They made a decision based on several factors, not the least of which was their belief in the 23-year old cornerback from Ohio State.
But in order to get him, they had to draft him where they could. It’s been reported that general manager Mike Mayock has (in more than one draft now) attempted to trade back with other teams. They were just not interested. I don’t think I can blame them. Mayock, in his first draft ever, not just with the Raiders, had arguably the most successful haul of the entire league, and one of the best in the last 20-ish years for the Silver and Black. Last year, he thrived in the later rounds so to give him more ammunition to do so might be just a little more reckless than organizations are willing to be.
Reach for the Stars
When asked about the “reach”, both head coach Jon Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock defended their choice heavily.
Gruden being Gruden or being grounded?
“We watched a lot of Ohio State film for obvious reason. We watched Okudah. Obviously, we were in the market for a corner and when you watch Okudah you can’t help but watch Arnette. I’ll be honest with you, I like Arnette as much as Okudah. If you look at the production, Arnette’s got more production. He played last year hurt with a broken right wrist. I think he’s the best tackler in the draft. I think he’s an old-school, bump-and-run Raider cornerback that’s physical and nasty.
“He reminds me a lot — I’m not going to guarantee this — but he reminds me a lot of Aqib Talib, a guy we drafted in Tampa several years ago. He’s a guy that has great confidence in himself, comes from a big arena at Ohio State and the bigger the game the better he played.”
Mayock when confronted about the pick said:
“The reason he’s not a reach is because of his grade in our system,” Mayock said on a conference call after the first round. “Did I think we could have moved down and got him? Maybe. But we didn’t want to lose him.
“What distinguishes him is, No. 1 he can run. No. 2, he’s tough as nails, and when you talk about competitors, he played most of the season with a cast on his arm. He can play outside, he can play inside, he can play left, he can play right. We feel like this is one of the most competitive football players in the entire draft. So, to answer your question, we don’t feel, at all, like this is a reach.”
What about his commitment?
Another knock on Arnette was his questionable commitment to football. A true redshirt freshman, the Buckeyes product was a phenom from the start. Still, he’s played through injuries since that year and still managed to be a powerhouse, but when he decided to leave school after his junior year (he received honorable mention with 40 tackles and one interception in his 13 games), the question arose whether he was truly ready for a full football career. He ultimately decided he was and returned to Ohio State for his final year of eligibility.
He made that senior year into his statement. Get ready, NFL, I’m coming for you. He scored his first career touchdown with a 97-yard interception. He was named to the All-Big Ten second-team and recorded 35 tackles and 8 pass break-ups to add to that interception. To question his commitment after all of that, while playing with a broken wrist, isn’t logical thinking.
Raiders win in late rounds
As mentioned above, the Raiders’ late-round picks have so far panned out very well under Mayock. Arnette is undoubtedly worthy of a decent draft position. So what if he went 80th overall to the Raiders? It’s not a reasonable assumption to think he’d still be there. The Raiders drafted him when they had their opportunity to do so. There was probably some behind-the-scenes discussion about him. Teams that took another corner after he was off the board may very well have taken the chance on him. Where would the Raiders be then? Picking another wide receiver to add to the already crowded room? We’ll never know. What we will know soon (hopefully, pending approval of the 2020 season) is how well Arnette fits in Silver and Black.
On paper, Arnette is an immediate improvement to the secondary. If he picks off Patrick Mahomes or bumps Tyreek Hill enough to throw him off his game, attitudes in Raider Nation might just change a bit.
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Top Photo: Jay LaPrette/Associated Press