After much turnover in the 2021 offseason, the Raiders cornerback group looks substantially different. The additions of Casey Hayward and Nate Hobbs make it hard to find a spot for former first-round pick Damon Arnette. While all hope is not lost for Arnette, how will he see the field?
Much work to do
Arnette’s rookie season was filled with more bad than good. A victim of many big plays, he also suffered from injuries and Covid-19 in 2020. The injuries happened oftentimes due to his reckless, physical playstyle that will have to be reeled in if he is to become what the Raiders hope he will. Being able to return to the weight room this season will certainly help him to stay healthy.
However, Arnette will have to re-earn his spot in 2021. In comes Casey Hayward, who not only provides a solid veteran presence, but also better play than what was offered from Arnette last season. He is also more familiar with Gus Bradley’s scheme having played in it the last several seasons with the Los Angeles Chargers. The addition and sudden burst onto the scene of Nate Hobbs complicates things as well. Whereas the Raiders would be wise to try Arnette in the slot where he can put his great press technique and smooth transitions to use, Hobbs appears to have locked that job up.
Arnette also does not appear to be a natural fit in Gus Bradley’s zone-oriented defense. When coming out of Ohio State, Arnette was praised for his ability as a press-man defender. Going into his second season, he has not been asked to play that role yet in his NFL career. Certainly, he can play zone, it will just take some time for him to learn how to do so at an NFL level. In some ways, it appears that the Raiders have not made it a priority to help Arnette but more so ask him to adapt to their plan.
Reasons for optimism
Regardless of the situation in the Raiders cornerback room, Arnette is still a talented player. In addition, he is a passionate player who is not afraid of challenging any receiver in the league. He evidenced this last season by getting in the face of Chiefs TE Travis Kelce.
In some ways, the competitiveness that Arnette shows is the best trait that an NFL cornerback can have. Add this to his man coverage ability and the Raiders have a talented corner on their hands. Remember, Ohio State fans did not think highly of him at first either. Criticized for drawing penalties and getting picked on early in his career, fans in Columbus wanted him gone. Sound familiar? For Raiders fans who feel the same way, Arnette has done this before.
Damon Arnette is in a tough spot. Clearly, the Raiders see him as a backup to start 2021 as he has played in both preseason games. For a first-rounder just one year ago, this has got to sting. However, as mentioned before, Damon Arnette is a very talented and passionate individual.
The Raiders will hope his time on the bench will help him get in shape, learn from a veteran like Hayward, and adapt to NFL speed. In 2021, Arnette will certainly see plenty of playing time. Unlikely to be a starter, he will undoubtedly be the first defensive back off the bench. The former first-rounder has a big year ahead of him because the Raiders will not hesitate to move on if he doesn’t show progression.
“I had a natural chip on my shoulder my whole life,” Arnette has said. “My goal of playing football hasn’t been to prove people wrong but to prove myself right.”
The Raiders will hope he proves them right as well.
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