Jon Gruden's draft-night praise of Damon Arnette wasn't just the Raiders coach trying to gas up his new corner.
When Gruden called the Ohio State corner to inform him the Raiders were drafting him with the No. 19 overall pick, Gruden told Arnette he believes he's better than Jeff Okudah, who was drafted No. 3 overall and was Arnette's teammate in Columbus, Ohio.
That wasn't just Gruden being Gruden.
"We watched a lot of Ohio State film for obvious reason," Gruden told JT The Brick on Sirius XM after the second round of the draft. "We watched Okudah. Obviously, we were in the market for a corner and when you watch Okudah you can't help but watch Arnette. I'll be honest with you I like Arnette as much as Okudah. If you look at the production, Arnette's got more production. He played last year hurt with a broken right wrist. I think he's the best tackler in the draft. I think he's an old-school, bump-and-run Raider cornerback that's physical and nasty.
"He reminds me a lot -- I'm not going to guarantee this -- but he reminds me a lot of Aqib Talib, a guy we drafted in Tampa several years ago. He's a guy that has great confidence in himself, comes from a big arena at Ohio State and the bigger the game the better he played."
Okudah is one of the most technically sound corners to come into the draft in years. He's got all the physical gifts to be a lockdown corner at the NFL level. Arnette is no slouch at cornerback, though.
He's got the size, ball skills, physicality and mentality to be exactly what the Raiders are looking for. Gruden's praise is high, and there's no doubt he believes Arnette was the best corner in the draft.
If Gruden turns out to be prophetic, the Raiders will have pulled off a draft-night heist. But, for now, the Arnette pick will remain heavily criticized until the play can do the talking.
Most people were shocked when the Raiders took Arnette off the board with the No. 19 overall pick. Cornerbacks Kristian Fulton, Jeff Gladney, Trevon Diggs and Jaylon Johnson -- all who were projected to be drafted ahead of Arnette -- still were on the board and the Raiders could have traded down to acquire more picks and take Arnette a little bit later.
General manager Mike Mayock shut down the notion that the Raiders reached for Arnette, saying they were afraid if they moved down in the draft that they would miss their shot to draft him.
Arnette, 23, is a physical cornerback who thrives at disrupting routes at the line of scrimmage. He can play inside and out, but the Raiders expect him to fill the outside cornerback hole opposite Trayvon Mullen. With most opposing quarterbacks throwing away from his teammate Okudah, Arnette was tested a lot during his senior season at Ohio State and thrived, holding opposing quarterbacks to the lowest passer rating allowed when targeted in single coverage.
Arnette was a fixture in the Buckeyes' secondary since his sophomore season. He thought about declaring for the NFL draft after his junior season, but returned to work on his game and improve his legacy at Ohio State. He quelled any character concerns teams might have had during a senior season where he put the team first and helped spearhead a defense -- along with top-five picks Okudah and Chase Young -- that led Ohio State to the College Football Playoffs.
Ohio State head coach Ryan Day praised Arnette following the draft. He wasn't surprised the Raiders drafted Arnette at No. 19, he was more surprised draft experts believed the corner wouldn't be drafted until the late second round.
“I think when you look at his body of work and versatility and the fact that you are getting a fifth-year senior that has played a lot of football,” Day said of Arnette via Rivals. “You are getting a mature guy who competed at a high level. (He) showed toughness, playing with a broken hand. He is definitely a first-round talent and I think he is going to play really well.”
There will be no time for Arnette to learn to swim in the AFC West. The defending champion Kansas City Chiefs got even more dangerous by adding LSU running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire, the Denver Broncos overhauled their offense with the addition of Jerry Jeudy and K.J. Hamler and the Los Angeles Chargers drafted their next quarterback in Oregon's Justin Herbert.
Arnette has all the tools to be a good NFL corner. He tested poorly at the NFL Scouting Combine but blamed his 4.56 40 time on a hamstring issue. He's a perfect scheme fit for the Raiders. He's got the toughness, mentality and edge that Gruden loves and the Raiders want to define their team.
The pick at 19 will be debated for a while, but that's a fool's errand. Arnette can silence everyone with his play in silver and black.
Especially if he really is better than Okudah.
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