Kerry Coombs called it.
On a conference call with Ohio State reporters Wednesday, the Buckeyes’ defensive coordinator raved about cornerback Damon Arnette and predicted that he would be taken earlier in the NFL draft than expected.
Arnette had been projected to go no earlier than the second round in mock drafts. Instead, Arnette was taken 19th by the Las Vegas Raiders on Thursday night.
Just as Coombs said.
“Don’t be surprised by how high he gets drafted,” Coombs said. “That kid is a player.”
Coombs recruited Arnette and was his position coach until leaving for the Tennessee Titans in 2018. Arnette started for three years, but it wasn’t until his final season that he truly blossomed.
He intended to declare for the NFL draft last year, but conversations with his father and Pro Football Hall of Fame receiver Cris Carter – a family friend – caused him to change his mind. So did his first meeting with new defensive co-coordinator Jeff Hafley, who helped transform Ohio State’s defense in 2019 before taking the head coaching job at Boston College.
“Every day I think about that decision that I made to come back and how it could have been,” Arnette said at the NFL combine in February, “and I‘m just thankful that I did come back.”
Arnette always had the swagger needed for a cornerback. Last year, he showed consistent technique and poise. He also proved his toughness by playing almost the entire season with a cast on his arm to protect a broken wrist.
He teamed with Jeff Okudah to form one of the country’s top cornerback duos.
“I am more confident,” Arnette said. “I feel like I’m more technically sound. That dog in me that I had in me, that’s who I feel like I am now instead of being him sometimes. I am smarter and I’m more mature on and off the field. I feel like overall I’m just more ready now than I was last year.”
Coombs was around for some of Arnette’s growing pains but took some issue with the characterization of him as an underachiever until last year.
“What a standard we have at Ohio State that somebody would describe Damon Arnette as an underachiever for a while as a three-year starter on a really, really good team and really good defense,” Coombs said. “That speaks volumes about the standards that we have at Ohio State.
“Damon Arnette is going to be a very, very good professional football player. It's important to Damon, and I think Damon has made tremendous strides personally. I think his work ethic has climbed off the charts.
“He is a tough, competitive player, and he's more savvy and more smart probably than people give him credit for. I will tell you, I think Damon Arnette is going to be a very, very good pro, and I think he's going to have a very long career because he's got versatility.”