Raiders general manager Mike Mayock and defensive coordinator Paul Guenther are trying desperately to improve a defense that, in 2019, finished 31st overall in Football Outsiders’ opponent-adjusted efficiency metrics, and 30th against the pass. 2019 rookie Trayvon Mullen showed potential, but the cornerback group was still pretty bare when the draft came around. So, Mayock surprised a lot of people by taking Ohio State’s Damon Arnette with the 19th overall pick, then doubling down in the fourth round with Louisiana Tech’s Amik Robertson.
Both Arnette and Robertson are at their best when they’re allowed to press receivers at the line of scrimmage, though Robertson is more fluid in off and slot coverage, and Arnette is a highly aggressive cornerback at all times.
Here, against Indiana, he makes a great play in the right defensive slot because he’s able to trail his receiver from the start. This is where he thrives.
What the Raiders are hoping is that Arnette will build on the breakout season he had in 2019. In his previous two seasons, he gave up more than 800 total yards, per PFF, and allowed completions on more than 60% of his targeted passes. But last season, he shaved that down to a completion rate of 44.6%, and he gave up just 306 yards, and 25 completions on 58 targets for an opponent passer rating of 60.6.
One of the reasons for that improvement is that Arnette was asked to play less man coverage — 65% in 2018, and 51% in 2019. The schematic adjustment allowed Arnette to be as aggressive as he likes, without his relative lack of downfield trail speed and ability to flip his hips to adjust to more angularly adept receivers becoming obvious liabilities. As long as the Raiders are going to be a zone-based team in 2020 (last season, per Sports Info Solutions, the Raiders played zone on 54% of their snaps, which ranked 21st in the NFL), Arnette has the attributes to make an immediate contribution. But he’s not a scheme-transcendent player right off the bat, and the adjustment period could take a while.
That said, Arnette is already showing impressive quickness in tight coverage at the pro level — here, he keeps up step-for-step with fellow rookie Henry Ruggs III, the fastest receiver in the 2020 class, as former NFL cornerback Eric Crocker details.
Ok Damon Arnette.. calm down!!! 🔥
I was high on Arnette. Had him CB5 in my class. I didn’t care about the 4.57 40 or short arms. His film was terrific. Textbook technique vs 4.2 speed Ruggs. Didn’t fall for the half step. Extremely impressive.
— CrockTIME (@eric_crocker) August 20, 2020
Arnette also got an interesting endorsement from a notable former NFL receiver.
I’m not sure who number 20 is for the Raiders but please let him know whoever he trained with needs a significant raise because his technique, patience & lateral movement is power point worthy ®️
— Chad Johnson (@ochocinco) August 20, 2020