Detroit Lions draft Alabama CB Derian Arnold: How he fits, pick quality and scouting intel

The Detroit Lions selected Alabama cornerback Darian Arnold with the No. 24 pick in the first round of the 2024 NFL Draft on Thursday. The Lions traded Nos. 29 and 73 to the Dallas Cowboys for No. 24 and a 2025 seventh-rounder.

Unlike his classmate and secondary partner Kool-Aid McKinstry, he earned a starting role as a freshman and spent two-plus years as a marquee member of Nick Saban's defense. A first round talent. After redshirting as a freshman in 2022, a loss at Tennessee — which he publicly cited this spring as a turning point in his career — Arnold shined in his only year as an every-game starter, leading the SEC in passing yards. Defending (17) and interceptions (5).

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'The Beast' breakdown

Arnold was ranked 10th on Dan Brugler's Top 300 Greatest. Here's what Bruegler had to say about him in his annual NFL Draft Guide:

“Arnold Cover offers a great combination of athleticism and competitive makeup, with the ball skills to make plays at every level of the field. He's scheme-versatile and has the ability to work inside or outside. He could be an NFL team's No. 1 cornerback, offering a skill set similar to Jaylen Johnson of the Chicago Bears. .

Intel training

Here's what two anonymous coaches had to say about Arnold in Bruce Feldman's mock draft:

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“He just kept getting better and better. He's good at everything. I think he can play anywhere in the secondary and shine.”

“Kool-Aid (McKinstry) is the guy who gets talked about the most in the media, but in my opinion, Arnold is more talented.”

Why he was a first round pick

Arnold received harsh criticism for a media stint at the NFL scouting combine. Those traits combined seamlessly with his ball instincts during his most productive 2023, helping him punish the offenses McKinstry wanted to avoid at all costs.

Nick Baumgartner moderates the selection

Local fans in Detroit were worried the Lions might trade up in the first round. But when the corners started falling, Brad Holmes and Dan Campbell couldn't help but pick up the phone. Detroit No. 29 to no. Up to 24 trades in five locations and caters to a huge demand. Arnold and Toledo CB Quinyon Mitchell were clearly the top two corners in this draft. Top 15 prospects in my group.

For Detroit, Arnold fills an obvious need and is a great fit for Detroit's culture. He's a confident corner who plays swag, he likes to work, he likes to practice hard and he likes to win. Arnold reunites with Brian Branch in a new-look Detroit secondary. Another great value choice. Grade: A.

How does he fit in?

Arnold, to put it simply, fits like a glove. He is arguably the top cornerback in the 2024 draft. He is Nick Saban's favorite Alabama prospect in this class. He is known for his football IQ, communication skills, competitive drive and desire to be the best. Last year at Alabama, he defended 17 passes and was the only FBS player with at least five interceptions and 12 PDs. He was versatile, playing both inside and outside during his college career. The Lions had a long-term need at the position, signing Carlton Davis III to a one-year deal and adding Amyk Robertson to compete for a starting job. They are no more. Arnold, if beaten, gives them the man they were looking for. GM Brad Holmes started calling teams in the teens to trade for Arnold, and getting Arnold at No. 24 seemed surprising. He is the No. 1 corner on Holmes' team.

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Newcomer impact

Arnold's main goal is to grow as a freshman. This offseason, the Lions reworked their cornerback room to add Davis and Robertson, re-signing Emmanuel Mosley. However, in the process, they allowed Arnold the opportunity to grow over time if he wasn't ready to start right away. That's what happens when you try to eliminate needs in free agency. The Lions have a roster that makes it difficult for a rookie to crack the starting lineup, just by design. A player of Arnold's caliber could challenge.

Depth chart impact

While the Lions could allow Arnold to develop, he's talented enough to immediately start a secondary that gets better every year. Remember when Detroit created Brian Branch? C.J. The initial hope was that Gardner-Johnson would start at nickel, and Branch would sit out a year. It didn't happen. Branch was too good, so early on, the Lions moved Gardner-Johnson to safety. At this point, it's safe to pencil in Davis as a starter, given his experience as a man corner and the capital the Lions traded up to acquire him. But beyond that, CB2's role is up for grabs. Robertson was brought in for a starting kick competition and the Lions were happy to add him to the mix. But Arnold is the future here. What matters is when he starts this franchise. Training camp should be fun.

They may also have chosen…

Few players fit the Lions better than Arnold, especially after they traded up to get him. Holmes always talks about creating the players they want, not the positions they need. Arnold always felt like their boy. Some prospects that make sense: DB Cooper Dejean, TD Johnny Newton, edge Darius Robinson, fellow 'Bama cornerback McKinstry and Oregon C Jackson Powers-Johnson felt they fit in this range.

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Quick assessment

The Lions needed a long-term cornerback and got one in Arnold, the top cornerback in the draft. He gives another young, viable building block to add to their growing roster. He's brutal, has a short memory, confidence in his game, defends the run well and has all the tools to be a CB1. The Lions picked the No. 3 pick in the third round to acquire Arnold's services. Had to part ways with 73, but considering they don't have too many needs on their roster, it's a fair price to get a guy they believe in.

(Photo: Butch Dill / USA Today)

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