Yahoo Sports' top 2020 NFL draft prospects, No. 49: Ohio State CB Damon Arnette

Yahoo Sports

Leading up to the 2020 NFL draft, which starts April 23, Yahoo Sports will count down our top 100 overall prospects. We’ll count them down in groups of five and 10 at a time, followed by in-depth reports on our top 50 players. We reserve the right to make changes to players’ grades and evaluations based on injury updates, pro-day workouts or late-arriving information from NFL teams.

Previous prospect rankings: Nos. 100-91 | 90-8180-71 | 70-66 | 65-61 | 60-56 | 55-51 | 50. DT Justin Madubuike | 49. CB Damon Arnette | 48. OT Ezra Cleveland | 47. WR KJ Hamler | 46. CB A.J. Terrell | 45. RB Cam Akers | 44. DL Ross Blacklock | 43. OT Josh Jones | 42. DT Jordan Elliott | 41. C Cesar Ruiz | 40. S Kyle Dugger | 39. EDGE Terrell Lewis | 38. WR Laviska Shenault Jr. | 37. LSU S Grant Delpit | 36. Jonathan Taylor

49. Ohio State CB Damon Arnette

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6-foot, 195 pounds 

Yahoo Sports draft grade: 5.90

TL;DR scouting report: A matured Arnette fits as zone/off-man corner who can add feistiness to an NFL secondary 

The skinny: The Ft. Lauderdale-bred Arnette was a 3-star Rivals recruit who picked the Buckeyes over Michigan and South Carolina. Following a redshirt year in 2015, Arnette earned a reserve role in 2016. He went on to start 38 games for the Buckeyes over the following three seasons, rising from honorable mention all-Big Ten in 2017 and 2018 to a second-team spot last season.

Arnette had to be talked into staying at OSU this past season by former Buckeyes great Cris Carter, and the move likely paid off with a higher draft standing. Although Arnette had only one interception last season, it was a 96-yard return for a touchdown against Indiana, and he earned a strong coverage grade from Pro Football Focus of 74.9 — the best mark of his four-year career.

Arnette, who turns 24 in September, pulled out of the Senior Bowl and ran only the 40-yard dash (4.56 seconds) at the NFL scouting combine.

Upside: Appeared to mature as a player in his fifth year in the program — fewer mental mistakes and guesses. Showed better pattern recognition and faster adjustments to double moves. Played the ball better in the air, even against taller opponents. Could be seen looking through receivers in zone and keying on quarterbacks’ intentions.

Played in NFL-type, scheme-diverse system under Greg Schiano, Greg Mattison and Jeff Hafley — all of whom coached in the NFL. Experience outside and in slot, plus various pro coverages (press-man, press-bail, off-man, variety of zones). Was tested frequently playing in secondaries teeming with NFL-caliber talent. Made progress as a defender over past four years.

Gets hands on decent number of passes — 22 pass breakups on 147 targets the past three seasons — and played senior season with a cast on his hand to protect a wrist injury. Made adjustments in rematch vs. Wisconsin — was tested often (12 targets) but held his own in Big Ten title game (five catches for 57 yards allowed, two PBUs). 

Displayed strong playmaking potential on this 96-yard pick-six, cutting off the Indiana receiver and weaving his way for a score:

Watch as Arnette crosses the receiver's face for the pick-six.
Watch as Arnette crosses the receiver's face for the pick-six.

Really good, aggressive tackler. Limits YAC chances by chopping down receivers’ legs, doing whatever it takes to get them to the ground. More than willing run supporter — seems to relish coming up front coverage to smack a back in the face.

Watch Arnette come up from off coverage in the slot (with inside technique and eyes in the backfield) to shed the blocking receiver and make a nice open-field tackle on the Wisconsin runner:

Every coach loves a corner who can tackle.
Every coach loves a corner who can tackle.

Everything Arnette does, he does with energy. Never backed down from tough assignments. Matched up with bigger receivers admirably more often than not. Comes downhill in a hurry — receivers must earn their production against him. Physical adjustment to the league won’t be steep.

Downside: Older prospect who might not have super-high ceiling. Not a top-tier athlete. 

Hasn’t consistently shown he can be a playmaker — only five career interceptions in more than 1,200 career coverage snaps. Can struggle to locate the ball and know when to go for it.

Plays too emotionally at times; opponents can get under his skin, and he can beat himself up for mistakes. Scouts have had to do extra character work on Arnette — even though he has shown more maturity in the past year-plus, not all teams gave him high marks in this area.

Plays with engine revved but might need to learn how to harness it better. Overly aggressive and was panicky earlier in his career. Might need a patient coach to shepherd him through a long NFL season and the peaks and valleys every NFL DB goes through.

Can give too big a cushion in off coverage. Punch in press coverage can be wild at times — will allow receivers to get clean releases. Will get victimized on comeback routes; not as adept at stopping on a dime and beating receivers to the spot. Back-shouldered a decent amount. Can lose track of targets in zone. Primarily a right corner in college.

Gets grabby downfield and got away with a few flag-worthy plays — will drape his inside hand around the backs of receivers. Can let tackles slip through his hands, and can get crossed up with man assignments with motion, pick plays and stack formations.

Good length but still might lose jump-ball battles to towering NFL receivers. Also could struggle to keep afoot with elite deep threats. Might need zone-heavy system or deep help in man system with his lack of second gear.

Best-suited destination: Arnette has the potential to be a good to very good CB2 and handle duties inside or out. Although his lack of makeup speed is concerning, he could fit in most NFL systems that don’t leave him on an island where he’s asked to carry speedsters downfield.

Among the teams that could be interested in his services include the Miami Dolphins, Philadelphia Eagles, San Francisco 49ers, Chicago Bears, Kansas City Chiefs, Denver Broncos, Atlanta Falcons, Los Angeles Chargers, Jacksonville Jaguars, Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys.

Ohio State CB Damon Arnette played the 2019 season with a cast on his wrist. (Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Ohio State CB Damon Arnette played the 2019 season with a cast on his wrist. (Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Did you know: Arnette suffered a broken right wrist during preseason camp — and played the 2019 season anyway. It happened when he tried to rip the ball from Buckeyes RB J.K. Dobbins in an August practice. 

Arnette didn’t realize the extent of the injury until after the Indiana game. He had surgery on the wrist, played with a large cast and missed only a cakewalk against Rutgers in November.

They said it: “I became a better player technically because of Coach Hafley and the technique that he’s brought to the program. When he got here, he went through each snap and basically was saying what was good about it, what was bad about it. Naturally, the technique that he was teaching, I kind of naturally was trying to do it last year because I felt like the other technique wasn’t fitting my style of play.”

Arnette on Hafley, now the Boston College head coach 

Player comp: Style-wise, Arnette isn’t as refined as A.J. Bouye was in 2017 and 2018, but they have similar makeups. We also could see Arnette seeing some ebbs and flows to his career, much like Trae Waynes, who reportedly signed a three-year, $42 million deal with the Bengals.

Expected draft range: Early second to early third round

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