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Why Oregon DL Arik Armstead Should Be a Top-10 Draft Pick

Cian Fahey@CianafFeatured ColumnistApril 18, 2015

Orgegon defensive lineman Arik Armstead stretches before drills at the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis, Sunday, Feb. 22, 2015. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
Julio Cortez/Associated Press

Very few certainties exist at the top of this year's NFL draft.

Jameis Winston appears set to go first overall, but nobody knows who the Tennessee Titans are going to pick or if they are going to be the ones making the second overall selection. Unlike in previous years, there doesn't appear to be a consensus top tier of players who will go in order at the top of the first round.

Arik Armstead is a name that hasn't been mentioned much as a potential top-five pick, but the Oregon defensive lineman has recently been discussed as a potential top-10 pick.

The most notable name to ponder Armstead as a potential top-10 pick is NFL Media's Daniel Jeremiah:

When you look at Arik Armstead, you look at somebody who has elite traits. He has elite size, he has elite strength at the point of attack. I think he has some upside as a pass rusher. I know people look at him and say he's not an elite pass rusher, lacks some of that quickness. Not what he was asked to do in that Oregon scheme. I think he definitely is going to be a much better pass rusher at the next level, and that's why I say he could go all the way up in the top 10.

What Jeremiah points to is what NFL teams will salivate over. Armstead is a 6'7", 292-pound defensive lineman with a very fluid, athletic frame and long arms. He is the type of prospect who is probably a better athlete than player at this point, but that's not always a fatal flaw.

Armstead is the kind of player who will need to be developed after the draft.

Developmental prospects are typically thought of as latter-round picks, but that's not really the case. Players such as J.J. Watt and Aldon Smith grew into their dominant athletic traits after they were drafted, although they were impressive college players for the most part too.

A closer comparison for Armstead is Calais Campbell. Campbell went in the second round of the 2008 draft after playing at Miami. Campbell wasn't a bad player at Miami, but he didn't come close to his true potential.

It took Campbell a year to break into the starting lineup with the Arizona Cardinals, but once he did, he immediately became much more valuable than the 50th overall pick the franchise invested in him. For a long time now, Campbell has been an All-Pro-caliber player. One of the most dominant defensive linemen in the game.

Admittedly it's harder to be a bit-part player when you're a top-10 pick, but the short-term impact of players picked in the top 10 shouldn't matter. Players picked at that point are expected to become long-term foundation pieces.

That is what Armstead can be, even if he's not immediately one in 2015.

Of the teams picking in the top 10, the most likely suitor for Armstead appears to be the Chicago Bears. The Bears need a nose tackle, but one could be found at a later point. Armstead could also be a fit with Washington, the Atlanta Falcons or the New York Giants.

In Oregon's two biggest games of last season, Armstead put his strengths on show.

The first thing that stands out with Armstead is obviously his size. Even against professional offensive lineman, he will stand out on the field because of his size. With that size comes some impressive strength. Strength that Armstead understands how to concentrate through his hands.

Credit: Draftbreakdown.com

On this play against FSU, Armstead is the left defensive end in a three-man front. Oregon often only rushed three defenders after the quarterback, but on this occasion they motioned a linebacker into a defensive end spot just as the ball was snapped.

This was crucial to note for Armstead even though it had nothing to do with him directly.

By bringing the fourth rusher, the offense's right tackle couldn't help the right guard. This gave Armstead a one-on-one matchup in space to attack. Armstead used his long arms to get his hands into the chest of the right guard before rapidly pushing him back toward the quarterback.

Armstead was unable to finish the play as Jameis Winston broke outside, but he did disrupt the timing of the play. It was also notable how Armstead pushed the guard backward, as he never appeared to lose his balance despite aggressively pushing his momentum forward.

This is important because it would have allowed him to react if Winston had attempted to step up past him in the pocket or to the outside. Winston escaped laterally so Armstead still couldn't bring him down.

Projecting forward to the NFL, Armstead could be a dominant bull-rusher when given one-on-one opportunities. However, what potentially makes him special is his ability to be a versatile rusher. Because his body doesn't appear to carry much, if any, unnecessary weight, he can work in space comfortably.

His great strength is complemented by precise footwork, impressive balance, upper-body fluidity and enough explosiveness to close on the quarterback quickly.

Credit: Draftbreakdown.com

One of the more eye-opening pieces of athleticism you will see in college football occurred on this play. It doesn't look like much on initial viewing, but Armstead's ability to execute a quick and controlled spin move at 6'7 and 292 pounds is an incredible feat of athleticism.

It speaks to his natural movement ability, his balance and his footwork.

Spin moves are typically much flashier than effective in the NFL. They are the kinds of moves that should only be used on a rare occasion rather than a recurring part of a pass-rushing arsenal. Armstead will need to understand that, but the play still shows promise for how his traits translate to other actions.

Credit: Draftbreakdown.com

This play against Ohio State shows off Armstead's ability to quickly work his feet and hands in concert in a tight area before using his bulk to fend off a blocker. At the snap, he threatens infield before adjusting to work back outside the tackle and directly attack the quarterback.

Unlike the spin move, this is the kind of translatable pass-rushing play that Armstead could make on a regular basis in the NFL.

Once more, Armstead didn't get the sack, but he appeared to be pulled down by the tackle, and the officials missed the penalty call. As an interior defender, it's often not about sacks but rather interior pressure. Interior pressure is what disrupts quarterbacks in the pocket most.

Credit: Draftbreakdown.com

When you can combine hand usage, power, quick feet, balance and a burst, you have a defensive linemen with huge potential as a pass-rusher. Armstead struggled to finish plays at times, but much of his subdued play was about how Oregon approached games.

By playing in a three-man front so often, Armstead was always being asked to face double-teams and/or confined space.

If he had played in a more traditional offense, he would have had more opportunities to attack defenders one-on-one. More opportunities in those situations would obviously lead to more opportunities to create impact plays and dent the stat sheet.

Any player with interior pass-rushing ability will appeal to NFL front offices, but it's worthless if it's not paired with run-stopping ability.

With his size, fluidity and strength, it's no surprise that Armstead shows off the ability to consistently handle double-teams. He doesn't dominate blockers in those situations, and he needs to be taught better technique to shed blockers, but all the traits to be effective are consistently evident.

On typical plays where Armstead isn't double teamed, he shows off impressive discipline and outstanding hand usage.

Credit: Draftbreakdown.com

Credit: Draftbreakdown.com

The quickness and aggressiveness of Armstead's hands showcase his power on both of these plays. He has the ability to manhandle smaller linemen and isn't reliant on winning at the first point of contact to be effective.

Holding his own in tight situations is relatively easy for Armstead when he uses his hands properly. He just needs to show more consistency in that area.

Credit: Draftbreakdown.com

Much like with Campbell, Armstead's size allows him to be a versatile defender in tight spaces, while his overall athleticism means he can work laterally also. On this play, he works past the right tackle's inside shoulder to get onto his outside shoulder while controlling him with one extended hand.

This kind of movement ability and discipline is rare.

It's easy to see why Armstead would be appealing to teams as high as the top 10 of the draft. He obviously isn't a consistent player at this point, but he has all the traits to become a dominant defensive lineman in the NFL.

He doesn't just offer high potential as a pass-rusher like other prospects; Armstead truly has the versatility within his skill set to dominate games in every possible way.

Taking a player of his kind in the top 10 of the draft could prove to be an era-defining moment for a general manager or coaching staff. It could also prove to be a major miss as they move past other more established talents.

Generally when you are picking in the top 10 of the draft, you have the choice of different top prospects—players who could dramatically alter the direction of your team.

This year's class lacks those kinds of players, so taking a chance on someone such as Armstead makes much more sense than it typically would. Instead of missing on a player with a limited ceiling in the first place, it makes more sense to be aggressive in pursuit of a potentially great player.

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