A year ago, the Las Vegas Raiders surprised everyone by taking Clelin Ferrell with the No. 4 pick — with many arguing that it wasn’t so much the player as much as the value that was in question. The Raiders’ defense? Ferrell fit with what they were building.
Fast-forward a year and it’s amazing how history repeats itself. After taking Henry Ruggs III at No. 12, the Raiders were on the clock at 19 with just about everyone guessing that a cornerback would be coming off the board. The problem was, nobody knew which corner.
“With the 19th pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, the Las Vegas Raiders select Damon Arnette, cornerback, Ohio State University”
No matter where you looked, you’d be hard-pressed to find a single ranking system that had Arnette as a second-round pick (let alone first). And while many would argue that the first round suffered a massive drop-off after the first 15 or so players (not to mention that the Raiders wouldn’t be picking again until No. 80), the Arnette pick remained a head-scratcher.
“I had him as the 83rd ranked player in the class and in the third tier of corners (cornerback No. 11),” said Thor Nystrom of Rotoworld. “He’s a smaller corner without upper-tier athleticism and I just thought there were better guys out there at 19.”
Even if you wanted to reach for a corner, why this one?
Well, it turns out that the answer is really simple: fit.
One guy who was a fan of the pick was NFL Draft Expert Brett Kollman, who created and hosts “Film Room” on Youtube.
Damon Arnette at 19 is NOT a reach. He’s really, really good. Love him in press. Just leave him on the boundary and watch him beat people up. Uses the sideline better than everyone else in this class not named Okudah or Terrell.
Physical, fluid, and smart.
— Brett Kollmann (@BrettKollmann) April 24, 2020
With that in mind, I reached out to Kollman to get his thoughts — specifically on Arnette, but also on the rest of the Raiders’ class.
“Mayock and Gruden are building the Raiders with a very specific identify – toughness, physicality, and intelligence. Arnette may not be the most athletically gifted corner in this class, but he IS the embodiment of that tough, physical, and intelligent profile that Mayock wants,” he said.
“Arnette, along with his teammate in Jeff Okudah, is a master of using the sideline to his advantage and physically dominating receivers on the boundary. He might lose on inside releases from time to time against quicker receivers, but if offenses think they are going to get deep balls down the sideline against him, or freebies on curls or comebacks, they are in for a LONG day.”
The Athletic’s Ted Nguyen did a film breakdown on Arnette that is worth both your time and your subscription, and came away with a similar conclusion:
“Measurables and draft position aside, I loved Arnette’s tape in the pre-draft process. I loved it even more when I got a closer look at it after he was drafted. In Arnette, the Raiders are getting a twitchy, fundamentally sound corner with tons of experience in bump-and-run coverage who could play inside, outside, off-man and even zone. His competitive nature jumps off the screen. He even played most of the season with a cast on his arm. I talked with an Ohio State coach who said, ‘(Arnette) is the most competitive player I’ve seen at Ohio State in all my years there.'”
Nguyen concluded: “His long speed and length are questionable but there weren’t many examples of him getting burned on film. While he doesn’t have the athletic profile of an elite prospect like his teammate, Okudah, he looks to have a high floor…”
The line about not having speed but not getting burned really struck me. How can a guy lack speed and yet still stick with guys on tape consistently? Nystrom might argue that it was because he was seeing the opposing team’s No. 2 receiver consistently — but what if it was something else?
Well, as Kollman pointed out on Twitter on Friday, the Raiders may have gotten a bit lucky with Arnette in some ways. The biggest knock on him coming out was his 40-time (4.56) — which isn’t great for a guy who doesn’t boast elite size or arm length. When asked about it, General Manager Mike Mayock indicated that they timed him at 4.43, so what gives? Well:
Had this video sent to me today. When the Raiders said that they clocked Damon Arnette in the low 4.4’s with their own watches, that wasn’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
When you watch the video, it appears as if more than a tenth of a second comes off the clock before Arnette moves, meaning the 4.43 actually seems reasonable. And if he had actually run a 4.43? Safe to say the reaction would have been far different (for context, his Ohio State teammate Jeff Okudah was clocked at 4.48).
Combine that with the coverage skills you see on tape (according to PFF, Arnette had the lowest passer rating allowed among all corners in the draft when in single coverage), and you’re left asking: what’s the ceiling with this guy?
“I think he’s going to be a starter,” Nystrom said. “But I’m projecting him as a solid No. 2 cornerback, and if you’re going to draft a kid in the top 20 you’re telling the NFL that you think he can become a potential No. 1, shutdown corner.”
Ultimately — like Ferrell — this is the type of question that remains unanswered. If Arnette shows 4.43 speed and develops into a high-end corner in a league starved for them, then Mayock will look like a genius in the face of his skeptics. But if he busts? Let’s hope we don’t find out.
If you enjoyed this deep dive, take a look at our previous one on Henry Ruggs III.