The Raiders had to improve their secondary during the offseason.
Las Vegas’ pass defense allowed an average of 256.7 yards through the air, which was 25th worst in the NFL. The Raiders, who surrendering 33 passing touchdowns, were one of just eight times to allow more than 30 last season. Opposing quarterbacks enjoyed a 103.8 pass rating against their defense, which was the worst in the AFC, while the unit came away with a lowly nine interceptions, also the lowest in the conference.
After landing safety Damarious Randall in free agency, general manager Mike Mayock turned his attention to the 2020 NFL Draft to find an upgrade at cornerback.
The Raiders were loaded with two first-round selections — Nos. 11 and 19 — and primed to land one of the top corners in the class.
The top two corners were off the board when Las Vegas picked at No. 12. Instead, it had its choice of wide receivers and came away with Henry Ruggs III. Based on Mayock’s tendencies of drafting prospects from Clemson, a strong case could be made that A.J. Terrell was his target at No. 19. Unfortunately for Mayock, the Falcons made Terrell their top pick at No. 16.
The Raiders ultimately picked Ohio State’s Damon Arnette, which was the first surprise of the draft’s opening round.
Was Mayock committed to a cornerback at No. 19 and panicked when his presumed target was scooped up a few picks before?
It’s quite possible, especially given the glaring need Las Vegas had at corner. Without owning another pick until No. 80, this was the Raiders’ last chance to find what could likely amount to a Year 1 starter. Terrell as a target for the Falcons was extremely logical given their needs and prototype for the position, so counting on Terrell at No. 19 was Mayock’s wishful thinking.
Arnette is a good prospect. He was No. 40 on my personal draft board, and I view him as a starter, as noted in the summary section of my scouting report:
“An ascending player, Arnette played his best football during his final season at Ohio State after some shaky moments as a starter in 2017 and 2018. Focusing on his 2019 tape, it’s hard to poke holes in his game. Thriving primarily in press coverage, Arnette also displayed his coverage versatility in multiple techniques; impressive moments where his ball skills, tackling and production in run support were on full display. Given his experience and growth, Arnette profiles as an early starter that is fairly scheme-versatile.”
Few people, if anyone, expected Arnette to hear his name called in the first round. While the value of the selection will be questioned, if Arnette proves to be a quality starter in the NFL then Mayock will have done his job and hit on the pick. There’s a good chance Arnette was last on the list of corners Mayock was comfortable with and knew he had to make the selection and trading back was risky.
The other component that must be considered is that not all teams value prospects in the same light. Given the variety of schemes and how prospects fit, valuations are wide-ranging. Knowing the types of cornerbacks defensive coordinator Paul Guenther’s had success with in the past, Arnette’s ability in press coverage meshes perfectly with what the Raiders want to do defensively.
With the Chiefs, Broncos and Chargers stacked with talented receivers and ascending passing games, the Raiders had to find an upgrade at corner opposite of Trayvon Mullen.
The Raiders found a steal in Amik Robertson with their fourth-round pick; he can be a star in the slot. Between Arnette and Robertson, a more experienced Mullen, the return of Johnathan Abram and arrival of Randall, the ingredients are in place for the Las Vegas’ pass defense to find much more success next season than it did in 2019.