Arik Armstead is this draft class' Rorschach test. You can take two professional scouts who have spent decades in the league, sit them down to watch his 2014 campaign, and they could come away with absolutely polarizing opinions of him.
Armstead is someone even casual fans have probably seen but not remembered. A blue-chip recruit in high school, the two-way amateur player flipped to the defensive line at Oregon, where he played on a national stage on a nearly week-to-week basis in his three years as a collegiate.
The thing is, for years people have been obsessed with the Ducks' high-flying offense, making their defense a distant memory even moments after a game. If you for some reason did focus in on the green-and-yellow (and sometimes black and grey) team when it didn't have the ball, though, Armstead was hard to miss.
Standing at 6'8" and 290 pounds, he even towers over offensive linemen, who are typically taller than defensive ends. Due to his size, coming out of Pleasant Grove High School in Sacramento, California, Scout.com actually ranked him as the fourth overall player in the Class of 2012—not as a defender, but an offensive lineman.
Other 5-star recruits he was ranked above include Jameis Winston, Shaq Thompson, Landon Collins and Eddie Goldman, who are currently projected as first-round picks after declaring early for the NFL draft—in Winston's case, two years early. Armstead was also slated ahead of Cordarrelle Patterson, a junior-college transfer who spent one year at Tennessee before going 29th overall to the Minnesota Vikings in 2013.
Oregon's unique defense allows him to use that same stretched-out frame that would have helped him as an offensive tackle to his advantage. As a strong-side defensive end in the Ducks' true 3-4 defense, he's asked to two-gap a lot, an attribute that could be looked at as a positive for teams who also run a lot of true 3-4 defensive looks at the professional level like the Baltimore Ravens, Philadelphia Eagles and Pittsburgh Steelers.
This is where the confusion comes in. If you're not playing in a two-gapping scheme, then what do you do with the 5-technique end?
He's a squatty player for his size, so a move inside to a 3-technique, the under tackle for a 4-3 defense, is quite possible. His bread and butter truly is as a run-defender, as he's strong enough at the point of attack to refuse to be moved. As a 3-technique, though, there's more of an element of necessary penetration from time to time than 5-technique, where a lineman's job is to stack and shed a tackle or guard.
In the ground game, that's a bit of a stretch to expect from him at this point.
He's pretty slow off the line of scrimmage, waiting for the offense to come to him rather than initiating movement. That's fine when you're clearly stronger than anyone across from you at the college level and you're asked to rip through him, but in a role where he's asked to make the push into a professional backfield, there just isn't that visible upside based on his current footage.
As a pass-rusher, he too often can lose his leverage by getting high, which is a shame because he has such great length that you'd imagine if he were able to control that leverage, his bull rush would be nearly impossible to stop.
Oregon sent a lot of three-man rushes, which didn't really help anyone involved, but when he faced double-teams, which happened regularly as opposing offensive lines outnumbered the Ducks defensive line, his two-gapping tendencies again flared up. Instead of sliding through the linemen, he'd stop his feet, throw his shoulder at them and use his core and overall strength to hold his ground at the point of attack.
That didn't help him get into the backfield, which reflects on the stat sheet with four sacks in his three years in Eugene.
That being said, he does flash great traits in other aspects. Because of his long arms, tackles and guards know they have to bend at the waist to reach inside his breast plates before he can do the same to them. His counter to that is a well-timed swim move that lets him make more of an impact in the run game, once again, than the pass game.
Arik Armstead with a nice swim move here. https://t.co/T9Ya6BExpr— Justis Mosqueda (@JuMosq) February 11, 2015
He's intelligent to the point that he can take advantage of an overaggressive run-blocker's flaws. In pass protection—where that run-blocker is now patiently waiting for him, staying balanced to meet him chest-to-chest—is where he's limited. There's just nothing for him to take advantage of if he doesn't have the requisite leverage and get that burst off the line of scrimmage.
Against zone runs, he also performs well, as he dominates that half-a-man mentality that stretches compose of. He's got enough of an anchor to instantly stop giving ground and, timing his attack correctly, can bait a runner into thinking he has an advantage facing him one-on-one. Armstead's feet in space are what makes him an interesting prospect as a weak-side end for a 3-4 defense.
He's been a strong-side end in college, but that role at the professional level is filled by the Haloti Ngatas and Vince Wilforks of the world. And at less than 300 pounds, Armstead just isn't that, at least yet. On the right side of play, Armstead can use his legs to run down the back side of a carry, which equates to plus-value when facing outside-running teams.
Another nuanced trait in which he excels is hand usage. That partially ties in with his swim move, but that's more of an "upstairs" attribute than a natural-feel-for-the-game one. He doesn't have quick hands, but they're very heavy and can get a pop on any lineman at the level he was playing at.
He also makes up for the lack of speed with technique. Often, he'll switch from a two-arm to a one-arm approach when an offensive lineman's quickness negates his length. The one-arm approach allows him to lean into a tackle or guard, and his strength makes up for the lack of control others would have with only one hand. Thus, his typically superior reach gets even longer without any noticeable flaws.
Arik makes a great play but fails to finish. Talent he flashes is tantalizing though. https://t.co/IjepZWlUeJ— Robert Ortiz (@DraftOrtiz) January 18, 2015
Overall, Armstead is a near anomaly. He's athletic, but only in certain ways. He's good as a functional technician, but only in certain ways. That's what causes debate in the community about him. If you're looking for a 5-technique who can help in the run game right now and might be able to contribute in the passing game once he resolves his leverage and center-of-gravity issues, you might love him.
Luke Easterling of Bleacher Report, for example, thinks he can be the next Michael Bennett. ESPN's Todd McShay, who mocked Armstead at eighth overall to the Atlanta Falcons this week, must feel the same way. McShay also went on College Football Live and stated Armstead is one of the rising prospects in this class.
Three names moving up draft boards: TE Maxx Williams, Minnesota WR Phillip Dorsett, Miami DE Arik Armstead, Oregon pic.twitter.com/jAY0Mu3h6K— ESPN CollegeFootball (@ESPNCFB) February 6, 2015
On the other side of the coin, you'll find people who think he is limited to only a weak-side 5-technique in a 3-4 defense and brings nothing to the table other than his run presence. Run-defenders in a passing league don't have much value, especially on the weak side.
That's likely what caused Armstead to drop in Bleacher Report NFL draft lead writer Matt Miller's most recent mock, where he went 58th overall to the Ravens, a 3-4 team. The difference in trade value, according to Draft Countdown's chart modeled after Jimmy Johnson's approach to picking during his time in Dallas, between picks No. 8 and No. 58 is roughly equal to the 14th overall selection.
That puts how split the community is on Armstead into perspective. One scout would take him in the late second, while another is willing to part with the value of a top-15 selection on top of that pick.
The market for 5-techniques in this class is odd. When Baylor's Shawn Oakman and Oregon's DeForest Buckner announced they'd return to college for a final season, the supply at the position decreased while demand stayed the same. That being said, Armstead didn't even make an All-Pac-12 team during his tenure in Eugene, despite all eyes being on him as soon as he set foot on campus.
In 2014, he got an honorable-mention nod. Leonard Williams of USC and Henry Anderson of Stanford, both draft-eligible 5-techniques, did make the first-team roster, though, as well as Buckner, his former teammate, on the second team.
Some have even called him a college bust for his lack of production. As ESPN.com's Kevin Gemmell noted, ESPN Insider Travis Haney had some choice words regarding him back in March 2014:
Armstead is a potential NFL All-Pro at left offensive tackle, based on his skill set, and a CFL player on the D-line, based on his performance as defensive end/tackle thus far. I personally think he is leaving millions of dollars on the table by playing defense. In fact, if he were my son, I would relentlessly hound him to make the switch.
He's simply just not a finished product at this point. If you're an optimist, you think he's a top-10 player. If you're a pessimist, you think he's a "CFL player." The truth probably lies in the middle.