Entering the 2020 season, the Las Vegas Raiders were prepared to play with Trayvon Mullen and Damon Arnette as their starting corners, despite their youth.
Mullen proved in his rookie year he was capable of handling the workload of a lockdown corner in the NFL, but piecing together Arnette's potential wasn't as clear. The former Ohio State Buckeye played four years at the collegiate level and racked up 140 tackles in the process. During the evaluation period, NFL analysts praised his tackling ability, but at 195 pounds wondered how he would fare at the professional level.
However, through two games, Arnette has totaled 12 tackles with one pass defensed and looks every bit the part of a first-round pick.
Against future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees, Arnette held his own facing a talented New Orleans Saints receiving core in Week 2, even without the services of Michael Thomas. It's still early, but Arnette seems to be transitioning better than most rookies, especially at his position.
"This is the most fun I've had playing football in my whole life," he told reporters Wednesday. "I don't got to worry about anything other than playing football. No extra luggage, no baggage. I can just worry about being the best player for my teammates and coaches."
The NFL pace is fast and if you aren't locked into every play or defensive call, you're sure to wind up on the bad side of a SportsCenter Top 10 reel. Coming in, Arnette knew this was the case, but he didn't let it intimidate him, and he's approaching each snap focused on his responsibilities.
"In the NFL you need sharper focus because in college you can tend to get lost and bored out there," Arnette said. "In the NFL, I can remember all the plays I've played in and each play really counts. The game seems like it goes by quicker, so I feel like that's why each play really counts. So, you gotta focus and stay in tune with each play because that one slip up could be the ball game."
During his NFL debut, Arnette bit on a double-move by wide receiver Robby Anderson, which resulted in a touchdown — so far, this has been his only "rookie mistake." Since then, the 24-year-old has been solid, but there's a lot he'd like to improve on.
"I'd say I've played hard," he said. "I'd say I've played with a lot of energy, effort. There's a lot of things to improve on, but the good I did do helped my teammates, so I'm not complaining about that. There's always room to get better and it's just the second game, so it can only get better from here."
The Carolina Panthers and the New Orleans Saints offered good experience, but New England Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick is sure to try and test the rookie cornerback. Facing Cam Newton will require strong eye discipline, but Arnette is up to the task.