Entering the 2015 NFL Draft a year earlier than expected, Oregon DL Arik Armstead boasts the ideal build and athleticism for his position. While his production over 39 career games as part of the Ducks defense does not leap off the stat sheet, Armstead’s potential is undeniable — perhaps a ceiling high enough to land him a spot late in the first round, if not earlier.
A two-sport athlete, the towering Armstead gave up basketball soon after arriving at Oregon to focus on football, becoming an integral part of the Ducks’ hybrid 3-4 defense. Lining up mostly at left defensive end as a 4-technique (head over tackle) or 4i-technique (inside shoulder of tackle) and occasionally over center as a nose tackle, the true junior posted personal highs in tackles with 46 (25 solo, 21 assisted), tackles for losses (5.5) and sacks (2.5) ‒ earning him a Pac-12 All-Conference Honorable Mention after his 2014 season. Armstead, the younger brother of former standout USC Trojan and Canadian Football League defensive tackle Armond Armstead, finished his collegiate career with just four sacks and one forced fumble over three seasons. The NFL team that drafts Arik Armstead ‒ particularly if taking him on Day One ‒ will be basing their decision mostly on his immense physical tools rather than his on-field accomplishments.
Tale of the Tape
Tall, lean, and with plenty of room to grow into his frame, the 21-year-old Armstead entered the NFL Scouting Combine at 6’7″ and 292 pounds. The defensive lineman has 33-inch long arms and 10.5-inch long hands. As part of the combine drills, Armstead completed 24 reps in the 225-pound bench press and ran the 40-yard dash in 5.1 seconds with a 1.76 second 10-yard split.
What He Does Well
Although reliant on his physicality and aggressive style of play instead of sound technique and positioning, Armstead did demonstrate a consistent ability to be disruptive in the running game during his junior year.
As a primarily 4- and 4i-technique defensive end, Armstead has experience as both a two-gap space eater and one-gap penetrator. Using his height, long arms and agility to his advantage, the defender showed aptitude in fending off blocks and plugging running lanes:
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The clips shown above highlight an assortment of Armstead’s physical attributes that allow him to stuff opposing ground attacks ‒ from his strength to handle multiple blockers coming from odd angles to his lateral quickness and the bulldozing use of his upper body and powerful hands. Armstead exhibits the raw tools that, when infused with some refinements in technique, will shape him into an impact defender against the run as either a 3-4 defensive end or 4-3 defensive tackle.
Part of what makes Armstead effective against the running game is his ability to move quickly from side to side while engaged in a block:
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As shown above, Armstead can lock out blockers with his long arms and use his nimble feet ‒ a physical trait carried over from his basketball days ‒ to flow laterally toward the action without giving ground. Given his typical height advantage over opponents, Armstead ‒ when he stays square to the line of scrimmage ‒ can then easily find the ball carrier before either driving the blocker into a gap or disengaging to make a stop on the running back.
Defeating Low Blocks
Armstead’s length and often superior athleticism also afford him an increased chance to shield low blocks, such as the dreaded cut block seen below:
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As the backside defender on the outside zone run, Armstead faces and defeats the right tackle’s attempt to cut him down. After staying quick on his feet and clearing his legs from danger, the defensive end uses his long arms to regain balance by springing off the downed offensive lineman. After showing excellent body control, Armstead races toward the running back from behind and uses his length to grab hold of the ball carrier for a shoestring tackle. In addition to reading and reacting to low blocks, Armstead also displayed good awareness and mobility on designed screen passes, quickly identifying the leaking running back and dropping into the throwing lane to stymie the play.
Strong Punch / Quick Hands
Using a combination of power, speed and solid strike techniques, Armstead’s best tools are easily his hands which, when integrated with his long arms and overall strength, allow the defender to overcome many of his technical flaws:
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Possessing a strong initial punch and an ability to follow-up with rapid and accurate hand strikes, Armstead can be an overpowering force. As seen in the cutups above, the defender has particular success against blockers that soft set (i.e., give ground with first step in pass protection), creating an opportunity for Armstead to bull rush. Demonstrating good hand placement with an explosive finish, Armstead has the ability to stagger blockers and simply club them out of his way. While sacks were few and far between during his time at Oregon, the defensive end has the capability to be an above-average, power-based pass rusher who can generate pressure by collapsing the interior of a quarterback’s pocket.
Armstead struggles with consistency across the board ‒ even within his strengths ‒ mainly because of poor habits in his technique. Despite terrific athletic prowess, the defender has an awkwardness in his coordination where his height appears to work against him.
Starts and Stays Too High
Often playing narrow and failing to widen out, Armstead has a difficult time playing lean and contacting the blocker at the appropriate aiming point, which should be under his man’s chin:
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In the examples shown above, Armstead engages the blocker high from the outset, preventing him from hitting his target on the rise, where he can produce power from his legs to either better control or drive through the block. When Armstead engages high on his power (or first) step, he tends to lose leverage against stronger offensive linemen on his subsequent balance (or second) step. In general, the lower player wins the battle, using both his base and upper body in tandem to knock back or control his opponent. Armstead clearly has the flexibility in his hips, knees, and ankles to play leaner, with a flatter back and wider base. Once he can consistently coordinate his hips behind his pads and his feet behind his hips to maximize the potential of his dynamic frame, Armstead could develop into a dominating three-down player against the rush and the pass.
Struggles To Stay Square
Until Armstead perfects his technique, as well as his ability to recognize and properly attack certain blocks, the defender will struggle to consistently stay square to the line of scrimmage as shown below:
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Here, the offensive guard exploits Armstead’s aggressiveness, using the defender’s momentum to turn his back to the ball. As a result of the overplay, the running back has an easy read on the cut to the inside. The play is also an example in which Armstead, ambushed by the nearby guard’s reach block, is unable to benefit from his long arms and fast hands because of initial poor technique when engaging the blocker. Armstead’s aggressive style can also leave him vulnerable to draw plays and against read option QB’s out of certain fronts in which the defender has contain responsibilities.
Spotty Gap Discipline
While Armstead is generally stout against the run, the defensive end reveals some flaws in his gap discipline when aligned over tackle:
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In the instances shown above, Armstead’s overcommitment in crashing the inside (B) gap either exposes the outside (C) gap or creates unfavorable matchups for his linebackers.
Slow First Step
Although possessing very quick feet overall, Armstead does not always display a decisive initial step at the snap:
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Slow to fire out of his stance in comparison to his fellow defensive linemen, Armstead’s power step into the block is largely negated. In a snowball-like effect, the slow first step leads to a high contact point with the offensive guard, causing Armstead to fend off the block with a narrow base and stiff hips. With zero leg drive behind his effort, Armstead allows the blocker to control him. In many plays already shown above, Armstead is able to compensate for his sluggish first step by relying on his upper body strength, longs arms and lightning-quick hands, but NFL-caliber offensive linemen will be less forgiving to slow first steps.
Comparable Player(s): Kendall Langford, Calais Campbell
A great talent that established himself as a solid run defender by the end of his Pac-12 career, Arik Armstead enters the 2015 NFL Draft oozing pure potential, flashing speed, lateral agility, bursts of tremendous power and devastatingly fast and vice-like hands. With an offseason to hit the weight room and fill out his frame, Armstead should develop the size and physical attributes needed to succeed as a 3-4 defensive end who could also kick inside as an interior tackle in sub-packages or even in some 4-3 base defenses. While finishing his senior year at Oregon would have secured his Day One draft status ‒ and perhaps even a spot within the top 10 if his production caught up to his physical tools ‒ Armstead should be no worse than a very early Day Two pick. Far from a boom-or-bust player, as he projects to at least be a viable body against the run, Armstead may never live up to his pre-draft hype. But, if the team that selects him can correct his erratic technique and smooth out the rough edges, the defensive lineman has the potential to become the type of defender that offenses will need to game-plan around.
Follow Brian on Twitter @Brian_Filipiak.
Brian Filipiak knows about proper blocking technique, the basics of run defense, how to defeat an overload, and the point-of-attack.
Raw footage courtesy of JimLightFootball.com