Damon Arnette is one of those rare four-year players you see every now and then. As a three-year starter and rotational guy in his freshman year, he has played in 47 career games already. That’s nearly three full NFL seasons under his belt. And Arnette has flashed steady improvement each year, culminating in a very impressive senior campaign that could potentially see him sneak into the first round.
Name: Damon Arnette
School: Ohio State
Weight: 195 lbs
2019 stat line: 11 games, 35 tackles, 1 interception, 8 passes defensed, 1 forced fumble
One of the traits that has always been pretty consistent throughout Arnette’s Buckeyes career is his aggressiveness. While he’s got good height and weight, he isn’t the longest cornerback out there and he seems to make up for it with his effort. He frequently crowds the personal space around receivers, whether in man or zone, and is always up in their grill. While some corners get described as being sticky in coverage, Arnette as downright invasive.
With potential top five prospect Jeffrey Okudah playing on the other side of him at Ohio State, Arnette saw a high volume of targets, but his fundamentally sound technique prevented him from getting burned for it. In previous seasons, Arnette would get beat in part due to his aforementioned lack of length, but in 2019 he showed an improvement in coverage spacing and closing burst to account for that and it paid off in a big way.
In man coverage, he is physical and annoying. He’s strong when trying to disrupt receivers’ routes and has a great feel for when to flip his hips and go upfield. He also doesn’t lose much ground when he does flip around, which is where a lot of other corners can get beat. Arnette has a sensational feel and understanding for spacing and levels of the field, and he uses this to his advantage, frequently putting himself in position to get between the ball and the intended receiver.
Arnette uses this same trait in zone coverage, which is good because his burst isn’t exceptional. He’s got good closing speed but isn’t one of those guys, like Okudah, who can rely on it. Instead, he combines his solid burst with his IQ to become a dangerous zone corner. He’s also very patient in his zones, not giving too much away and scanning the field well.
Arnette very much fits the profile of a ball hawk, and that could endear him to the Cowboys front office in a big way. Because of his sound coverage techniques, Arnette is frequently in position to make plays on the ball, and his aggressive instincts result in him going for those plays. He seeks to intercept passes instead of knock them down, which occasionally gets him in trouble, but his five picks in four years shows what can happen when he capitalizes on those chances. Some unlucky bounces prevented him from having at least three more picks in 2019, and those ball hawk traits are undoubtedly there.
But there’s always downsides, and for Arnette it’s unreliability in the run game. There’s not any glaring flaws here that would drop him down on a draft board, but Arnette just can’t be relied on to go out and be productive in run defense. His shorter arms and shoulders make things easier on the offense on run plays, and he doesn’t win very much when coming downhill. However, when the ballcarrier meets Arnette in the open field, he does a good job of bringing him down.
In short, Arnette brings a lot of very desirable traits to the table. To contextualize it for Cowboys fans, Arnette is almost like what you’d get if Jourdan Lewis was two inches taller. He probably won’t develop into a number one cornerback but Arnette can be a hyper-productive second corner for any team, especially the Cowboys.