Damon Arnette, CB, Ohio State
Class: RS Senior
Statistical Profile: Few Ohio State cornerbacks stay on campus as long as Arnette, who spent five years, 53 games and 38 starts as a Buckeye. Five picks and 22 pass breakups later, and Arnette is finally heading to the NFL as an older prospect who will be 24 when his rookie season begins.
Where he wins: Arnette is a talented, scheme-diverse cornerback who took awhile to bloom at Ohio State, but was excellent during the 2019 campaign despite playing with a cast on his broken wrist. Regardless of opponent, Arnette was consistently stingy in man coverage, staying tethered to receivers throughout their routes with clean footwork and impressive athleticism.
I love how quickly Arnette can sink and transition with receivers out of their breaks, staying in phase to discourage throws with his positioning. Although he doesn’t have elite ball skills, Arnette does a great job being physical through the route and then playing the catch point when the ball arrives, not the man.
From an athleticism standpoint, Arnette may not be elite, but he’s easily good enough. A fluid mover with quick feet, Arnette has shown the long speed to run with every receiver he faced last season, rarely allowing much vertical separation. His Combine 40 time was disappointing, but speed didn’t look like an issue in any game I watched this season.
Although Arnette has some minor concerns in all schemes, he’s a versatile corner that even played well in the occasional slot role this past season. The redshirt senior is assignment sound in zone coverage, never getting pulled out of his assignment or foiled by more complicated route concepts (admittedly, not a ton of these in Big Ten passing attacks).
One of my favorite things about Arnette is that he plays with elite toughness and physicality. He doesn’t give an inch in press, and when he gets his hands on receivers early in the route he can throw off their release completely. That edginess extends to the run game, where Arnette works off blocks with urgency and is one of the better tackling cornerbacks in the draft. Most great cornerbacks have some crazy and some chirp to their game, and Arnette will fit that mold well, especially after playing all season with a cast on his broken wrist.
Where he may struggle: Arnette doesn’t have a ton of clear-cut weaknesses, but one of them is that he doesn’t seem to process routes quickly that break in front of him in off coverage, sometimes staying in his pedal a beat too long and giving up some underneath catches.
His click-and-close is good enough, but not elite, and he’s probably going to be better in press than he will in off-man. Arnette can stall a bit transitioning from his drop to play forward. I don’t think we are talking about a cornerback that will make a ton of plays on the ball vertically, and there are a few instances where Arnette could get his head around earlier on throws down the sideline.
One of Arnette’s bigger concerns rarely shows up, but could lead to big plays in the NFL if he doesn’t clean it up. His feet and hips will occasionally overreact to a receiver’s footwork at the line of scrimmage, causing him to fall out of phase early in the route. Arnette has to be more consistently patient and stay square, letting his length and strength make the impact rather than trying to guess with his feet. He lacks the elite speed to recover if he gets beaten early in the rep, so staying on top of receivers will be critical.
Bucs Fit: The Bucs aren’t in the market for a corner, but Arnette has the physical make-up and demeanor of the new mold of defensive back in Tampa Bay. The senior’s 30-inch arms at the Combine may also be below the standard the Bucs are looking for at the position. If Arnette were to fall in the draft for some of the rumored character reasons, a value pick could be tempting for Jason Licht, but it’s probably unlikely.