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Throughout the history of the NFL Draft, one thing is consistent: teams love players with freakish size and athleticism, even if their actual football skills are questionable. Oregon’s Arik Armstead, listed at 6’8″ and 290 pounds, has been lobbed into this category by most draft analysts, and rightfully so. Though, Armstead is different in that he does not struggle in many areas that require him to learn new technique. Rather, Armstead is a raw football player that needs more snaps to develop a more natural feel for his 5-tech position. While he may never develop a smoother game, counting on him to simply play to develop rather than learn entirely new things is promising.
Arsmtead is a freak of nature. The man is built like you imagined Goliath was built when you were a kid, yet he moves much better than would be assumed from someone that size. His change of direction ability may be a bit lacking, but his predicated linear movements are scary.
When moving laterally, like when he attempts a ‘swipe’ move or a spin, Armstead is too quick for his size for opposing offensive linemen to be able to corral him. Sure, he is still a large target, but a man his size moving as quick as he does is not going to be controlled without very good technique and physical ability. One small slip from the lineman is enough for Armstead to win. Armstead’s speed in space is impressive as well, allowing him to chase down quarterbacks much better than 290 pounds should be able to.
As displayed in the play above, Armstead has overwhelming power and strength. His initial punch is often enough to force the lineman to reset, while the raw strength in his upper body and leg drive enable him to abuse the man in front of him. In the run game, Armstead uses his punch to reset the line of scrimmage and put himself in position to take down the ball carrier or, at the very least, force him to find a different lane. This brute style of run defending is going to be where Armstead makes his money. He definitely has his moments as a rusher, but the consistency and disruption he causes as a run defender is his most valuable trait right now.
Armstead also uses this punch as a rusher to create an opportunity to make a real pass rushing move, whether that be a bull rush or a ‘rip’ type move. Armstead’s game revolves around his dominant physical prowess.
Armstead makes sure to make use of his physical traits almost all of the time. Seldom does he simply give up on a play. On most plays, Armstead is keeping his hands and legs active in trying to beat the offensive lineman. While that may lead to nothing but him holding his ground, Armstead is rarely moved away from a play by a single lineman, and even double teams fail to move Armstead on many occasions.
Though, as active as he is throughout the duration of a play, Armstead has to get his play off the snap up to speed with the rest of his game. Armstead has shown flashes of above average burst off of the line of scrimmage, but for the most part, he is slow to get off the line and stands too upright too quickly. Not only is he physically struggling to get off the line, though. His reaction time from the move of the ball is poor and there’s a good chance I’d put money down on him being the last to move on any given snap.
This trend of delay and sluggishness can be seen on most of the GIFs above, yet he can still win despite being average, at best, at the beginning of the play. But of course, there are plenty of times where the leverage battle alone makes Armstead lose the play. Being as tall as he is, staying low off the snap has to become a priority. Being as dominant as he is in other areas, if Armstead were to clean up either his anticipation of the snap or his leverage (or both, though the latter of the two is more likely), he would be able to maximize his ability to create chaos as a pass rusher.
Arik Armstead is raw rather than flawed. The things he has to improve on can come with time and experience, for the most part. That is not to say that those improvements are a guarantee, but being as physically imposing as he is, it is a gamble I’m willing to spend a high pick on. Does that mean top 10? Not quite, but for a mid-first round team like Cleveland or San Diego, Armstead would be a wonderful addition as a 5-tech (likely a 3-tech in nickel).
In the NFL, Armstead is going to be somewhere between Chris Canty and Calais Campbell, both of which are good players. Canty, the lower end of the spectrum, is an outstanding run defender who has moments of overpowering pass rushing, while Campbell is a consistently overpowering player in every facet of his game. Even if Armstead is not the best prospect in the class, guys like him don’t come around too often. Any team seeking a 5-tech defensive end should have Armstead at the top end of their draft board.