It’s no secret that Ohio State produces outstanding defensive back talent in almost every single draft class. The Buckeyes have produced players like Marcus Lattimore, Malik Hooker, Denzel Ward and many others as they continue to churn out first round pick after first round pick. With Jeff Okudah looking like another top 10 pick from that defensive backfield, “the other corner” seems to be getting overlooked by the scouting community.
Cornerback Damon Arnette is such an interesting prospect. A rare senior defensive back on Ohio State, Arnette has been a contributor for the Buckeyes for the last three years. He has earned All-Big Ten honors three times in his career (honorable mention in both 2017 and 2018 and second team in 2019). He is also an insanely tough player who played most of this past season with a cast on his hand due to a hand injury.
So why is Arnette being slept on in this draft cycle? He is a bit older and hasn’t made too many highlight reel plays in his career but he comes from a top school, is a really good athlete and operates extremely well in both press man and zone coverage. In today’s film piece, I will discuss Arnette’s strengths and talk about why he can be a really good cornerback in the NFL in the right system.
There is nothing better than a cornerback who excels in press-man coverage. I remember being at the Colts’ training camp last offseason talking with Rick Venturi, a former NFL coach who has worked closely with Nick Saban. He recalled a story that whenever the coaches wanted to joke around with Saban, they would ask him if they are going to practice off man coverage on a given day. This would send Saban into a frenzy on why he hates off man coverage and why press man/zone coverage are his preferred coverage schemes.
While it is humorous to think of Saban losing his mind at the mention of off-man coverage, he does have a point in his rage. Press man is such an effective tool in defense as it puts man against man and allows the cornerback to be physical and dominate at the line of scrimmage to disrupt the wide receiver. While some cornerbacks aren’t cut out for the physical play needed at the line to play press man, Arnette thrives in this area.
Arnette is not only exceptional in press man, he is also the aggressor. So many cornerbacks like to sit back, mirror the receiver’s steps, and not use contact to disrupt the route. Arnette understands the importance of rerouting receivers and throwing off timing by utilizing his hands and a good punch. He is patient and calculated with his press technique while also possessing great athleticism to move laterally and vertically with receivers. He understands field location well and knows when to pinch players to the sideline and where to be at all times. Overall, Arnette is one of the top press corner prospects in this class.
The NFL is becoming more dependent every year on cornerbacks who can come up and make plays on running backs and receivers underneath to limit big gains. In a league that is so predicated on chunk plays, having corners who can close quickly and make confident tackles in space can severely limit those big chunk plays from happening.
Arnette, yet again, is not only a willing tackler — he loves to hit people. I have yet to find another corner in this class as physical and strong as him in run defense. He flies downhill whenever the ball comes his way and is like a freight train as he barrels through ball carriers. Receivers struggle to maintain blocks on him as he executes a push-pull move perfectly as you will see in a few clips below. He is also very aggressive in this area when few corners are. While it is important to keep outside contain, getting those big tackles for a loss or attacking ball carriers rather than being passive is so important for defenders. He is a mean and physical corner who is simply an asset in run defense and making tackles after the catch.
Now let’s get to the good stuff. Obviously, a corner can be a great tackler and great in press but if he can’t locate the ball in the air, he is going to struggle. That’s where the great misconception comes with ball skills though. When people hear ball skills, they immediately think interceptions. To me, though, ball skills is the ability to make plays on the ball and separate the receiver from being able to make the catch. Whether that is interceptions, pass deflections or just being physical, as long as the receiver is not making the catch, you are winning the rep.
Arnette may not have been an interception machine in college but he has great ball skills. He has 27 pass deflections and 22 pass break-ups in his college career. He possesses great closing speed which allows him to break on passes quicker than most receivers. Arnette has a great feel with his timing and understands how not to panic when he is beat and focus on just separating man from ball. In zone coverage, he has excellent instincts and feel for his area of the field, as he breaks on passes with ease to make difficult plays look easy. He may not be a big playmaker in the NFL but he will be reliable enough to make plays on the ball when he is targeted.
Part of me doesn’t understand why Arnette is not getting a ton of hype in this draft class. He has the big school pedigree, the athleticism and the right attitude to be a top pick in a typical draft class. The only thing really working against him is that this corner class is pretty top heavy with talent and he doesn’t have the elite ball production that others have in this class. He does however have the talent to be a very good NFL corner.
Now with all these positives, there is a path where Arnette can struggle in the NFL. He is excellent in press-man and zone coverage and can be an excellent fit for teams that rely on those coverages. Where he could struggle though is with teams that want to stick him in the slot or use him in off man coverage. He is a bit stiff and struggles when put in these areas. If he is able to play to his strengths in the NFL though, he could be a good asset to a good NFL team.