The Las Vegas Raiders used the 19th overall pick in 2019’s draft on cornerback Damon Arnette. At the time, the selection surprised analysts and fans. He left Ohio State with questions about his long speed and ability to hang in zone corner. The Raiders, however, loved his ability to stick in man coverage and drafted their guy regardless of national perception.
Injuries, mistakes, and Covid-19 hindered Damon Arnette in 2020
Arnette broke his thumb back in training back and spent several weeks of the season with a cast in his hand. This injury left him unable to be physical with wide receivers at the line of scrimmage. In a tough “welcome to the NFL type moment”, Arnette got far too aggressive on a wide receiver Robby Anderson double move. It went as you would expect and Anderson broke free for an easy touchdown.
Robby Anderson put the entire Raiders secondary in a blender pic.twitter.com/Qup1UnQPep
— Barstool Sports (@barstoolsports) September 13, 2020
The first half of the season wasn’t a good one for ‘Netway’. Before he could settle in, he tested positive for COVID-19 and when he returned, the injuries and struggles only heightened. Back in Week 11 against the Atlanta Falcons, he sustained a concussion on the very first play of the game. Astonishingly, he repeated this injury the next week against the New York Jets.
All of this was only a set up for his worst mistake of the year by far. Against the Miami Dolphins, he and Isaiah Johnson blew a coverage, leading to an improbable completion that, compounded with a facemask penalty from Arden Key, put Miami in position to kick the game-winning field goal.
Did you see the ending of the Miami #Dolphins and Las Vegas #Raiders game? Watch this insane 34-yard pass by Ryan Fitzpatrick @MWSNsports #FinsUp #Miami #NFL #NFLTwitter #Touchdown pic.twitter.com/XUtnLPnsDJ
— Gabriel Schray (@schrayguy) December 27, 2020
There is plenty of room for growth
Head coach Jon Gruden said it best, Arnette must be available and stay off the injury report. He can do this is by vastly improving his tackling technique. He is a very willing tackler and has no problem mixing it up with even the biggest running backs and tight ends. Nevertheless, he tends to come in too hot at times and leading with his head. A refined technique would lead to many more tackles and a lot fewer head injuries. Against the Falcons and Jets, he was looking at the ground as he tried to throw his head into a tackle.
Looked like Damon Arnette took the crown of Gore’s helmet to the side of his head. With Isaiah Johnson out today, Nevin Lawson will be taking his place if Arnette doesn’t return. Could be his 2nd concussion in 2 weeks. #RaiderNation pic.twitter.com/JhoOj9LM05
— Chris Reed (@ChrisReed_NFL) December 6, 2020
He also has plenty of room to improve in coverage. The most glaring example of his lapses in zone coverage is the Hail Mary play in Miami. On the play, the Raiders are playing Cover 2 with the intention of taking away any shot down the field. Arnette’s responsibility as the boundary cornerback was to play underneath the wide receiver and if anything, and tackle the receiver in bounds as the Dolphins have no timeouts. Instead, the rookie let Dolphins wide receiver Mack Hollins get behind him as he has eyes on a flat route. Looking back, this is a classic example of a busted coverage by a rookie corner in a crucial moment.
The Raiders have reasons for hope
Despite his struggles this season, Arnette still clearly has all the raw talent he displayed in his time at Ohio State. These skills are evident in his ability to still play sticky man coverage and his high-level football instincts. Cultivating these traits as well as adding to his repertoire will be one of the top priorities of the Raiders’ next defensive coordinator.
Incredible play by #RaiderNation rookie CB Damon Arnette. Peels off the Post route before Cam even releases the pass, perfect path to close on the crosser and meets the ball with ideal timing. Diagnosed the concept and anticipated the throw like a veteran. pic.twitter.com/oCOS5WRlto
— Brad Kelly (@CoachBKelly) September 29, 2020
The biggest reason for hope is also one of the biggest reasons Gruden and Mayock drafted him in the first place, his unbreakable confidence. Despite his struggles, Arnette could always be seen celebrating tackles, hyping up his teammates, and dancing pregame and in practice. Moreover, he is a talented athlete who loves football has the tools to further his game in the NFL. That’s exactly the type of player the Raiders want in their building.
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Top Photo: Las Vegas Raiders official YouTube channel