Las Vegas Raiders wide receiver Henry Ruggs III is getting plenty of hype ahead of the 2020 season. Nevertheless, their other 2020 first round pick, cornerback Damon Arnette, should get as much praise.
It’s easy to to forget the Raiders picked Arnette with the 19th overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. Between Amik Robertson’s underdog story and Ruggs’ Madden ratings, Arnette isn’t getting as much recognition. Also, the fact that he was an unexpected pick by the Raiders doesn’t help matters. There were plenty of cornerbacks still available when Las Vegas made the selection, and most analysts had them higher on their boards than Arnette.
However, it would be foolish to underestimate Arnette’s potential in the NFL. After all, his college numbers were quite good. For example, he allowed the lowest passer rating of this year’s cornerback class per PFF. As long as Raiders brass feels comfortable with the pick, it doesn’t matter what observers think.
Damon Arnette, There’s a Reason for Being Skeptical
On the other hand, the Raiders must’ve done their research and know there are reasons to think Arnette’s selection was a reach. Salomon Wilcots of PFF analized the cornerback’s body of work and saw a couple concerning trends.
The analyst started his overview by pointing out Arnette didn’t earn superb coverage grades while at Ohio State. Later, he echoed what other experts thought: Arnette was a mid-round draft pick.
Damon Arnette earned good, but not great coverage grades for three consecutive seasons at Ohio State, never quite managing to crack the 80.0 threshold.
Also, Wilcots wonders how Arnette will fare in man-coverage against top echelon receivers.
To Arnette’s defense, general manager Mike Mayock and the Raiders scouting department timed the corner’s 40-yard dash at 4.43.
There were two nuggets from Mayock's chat with @SiriusXMNFL today: 1) #Raiders had their own time of @damon_arnette at the combine — 4.43 as opposed to the 4.56 other teams had. 2) Raiders had a second-round grade for @B__ED89
— Vic Tafur (@VicTafur) April 30, 2020
Additionally, Arnette could’ve been a victim of a quick trigger.
Had this video sent to me today. When the Raiders said that they clocked Damon Arnette in the low 4.4â€™s with their own watches, that wasnâ€™t just to save face.
Arnette seemed to get an unfortunately quick trigger on the clock at the combine. Just something to take note of. pic.twitter.com/rW327ahKuK
— Brett Kollmann (@BrettKollmann) May 2, 2020
Wilcots went over Arnette’s production in his first two years with the Buckeyes. During that span, his performance was pretty average.
Arnette was somewhat of a late-bloomer for the Buckeyes. He allowed over 800 receiving yards from 2017-18 â€” allowing a catch rate of 63.7% over that span â€” while his 86.2 passer rating allowed over that period ranked 111th among the 202 cornerbacks who saw at least 75 targets. Just like his coverage grades, his numbers were passable but far from stellar.
However, Wilcots made sure to look at Arnette’s performance at Ohio State in 2019. In that season, the cornerback had better numbers and played especially well in man coverage.
He showed improvement in 2019, allowing only 25 catches for 306 receiving yards on 56 targets (44.9%). Raiders fans will also be happy to know that he allowed only 11 catches from 32 targets in man coverage, giving up a passer rating of just 65.0 on those throws that ranked 10th among qualifying corners.
Arnette’s Steady Ascension at Ohio State
Putting Arnette’s performance in context, it seems like he was learning the ropes in his first couple seasons in college. Likewise, his improvement in his last year in college might’ve been due to him being able to feel at ease at the position. His 2019 production appears to be the result of natural progression in his development rather than a fluke. Had he peaked in 2018 and then underperform last year, he would come across as inconsistent.
If Arnette keeps showing progression and was indeed timed wrong at the combine, he will figure to make a strong case to take over the starting job opposite of Trayvon Mullen.
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