Ohio State fifth-year senior cornerback Damon Arnette has been heavily scrutinized by Buckeyes fans for most of his career with his inconsistent play and knack for giving up big plays. However, in his final season in Columbus, Arnette has completed rejuvenated his draft stock with much better tape on the boundary.
At 6’0, 195, Arnette almost declared for the 2019 NFL draft last spring, but he realized his individual resume on film was just not good enough, so he decided to go all in on his senior campaign for his future at the next level. It has paid off in a big way, as some scouts now believe he has a legitimate shot at being a top-50 selection next April.
Arnette has always had the profile of a top cornerback prospect with his length, speed, and twitch in coverage, but inconsistent ball skills and an over-aggressive mentality made him a penalty machine the last couple of seasons. Additionally, his lack of eye discipline made him a highly susceptible target to double moves on a weekly basis. Some Buckeyes fans were even a little disappointed when he returned for his senior year because of how much he struggled in big games. However, once I dived into this year’s tape on Arnette, it’s like I’m watching a completely different player, in all of the right ways.
The biggest improvement Arnette has made this season is his ability to consistently find and attack the football. It has been his Achilles heel since arriving to Columbus, and it was the main reason why I left him out of my preseason top-10 cornerback rankings. But you can tell he made this part of his game a priority to improve upon with the strides he’s made as a senior. Look at this play here, for example. Lined up in the slot, he disrupts the timing of this fade route at the LOS and then plays right through the hands. This is a textbook type of play that Arnette wasn’t making earlier in his career. He has the same natural athletic gifts – he’s just now accentuating them by playing with more consistent and effective technique in man coverage.
One of the top barometers of evaluating a cornerback prospect coming out of college is if they can consistently play with their back to the ball. Most collegiate defensive backs know how to attack and make plays coming downhill with the ball in front, but being able to locate and track over the shoulder, while maintaining position and timing the attack without drawing a flag, is much more difficult to master. In fact, it is one of those traits that you either have, or you don’t. For the first three seasons of his career, I thought Arnette would never be able to consistently play with his back to the ball, and thus, I was not confident in his projection to the next level as a top cornerback prospect. Arnette has improved drastically in this area as a senior, which is rare because he’s played a lot of snaps for this Buckeyes defense, signaling that he’s possibly developed permanent bad habits on the boundary. If you’re wondering why Arnette has suddenly risen into Day 2 consideration, you can point back to his improvement in man coverage with his back to the ball.
Arnette has also become more efficient in zone coverage this year, playing smarter and more calculated, as opposed to often getting fooled by action in the backfield. I’ve seen a lot of analysts knock Arnette’s lack of athletic ability, but as you can see on plays like this, his click-and-close speed is second to none. He’s always had twitch and elite change of direction skills, but again, I think people are starting to just now realize that because his inconsistent technique in previous years masked his athletic gifts. It’s the old concept of play speed versus timed speed, and at long last, Arnette is starting to play as fast as he will run at the Combine next spring.
When Arnette decided to return for his senior season, I desperately hoped he found a way to be more consistent and effective with his technique in man coverage, both at the LOS and at the catch point. In fact, I believed he would have to move to safety to have any chance of being a consistent player at the next level. However, Arnette has improved in those areas more than any cornerback prospect in the country, and because he already possesses the quick-twitch athleticism and stop-start speed you want at the position, he is firmly in the top 10 of my cornerback rankings for the 2020 NFL draft, based on what