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49ers roster breakdowns, 90-in-90: DL Arik Armstead

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Breaking down the 90 players on the 49ers offseason roster in 90 posts (over 90 or so days). We move on to defensive lineman Arik Armstead.

NFL: San Francisco 49ers at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Each year, we run a series of post called "90-in-90" here at Niners Nation. The idea is that we'll take a look at every single player on the roster, from the very bottom to the top and break them down a few different ways. This is to help give everyone a basic understanding of a roster. Of course, this roster will change, and some days we'll have more than one so it's not strictly one per day but you get the idea.

Drafted in the first round of the 2015 draft, Armstead was supposed to be part of the 49ers’ retooled 3-4 defensive line following the departures of Ray McDonald and Justin Smith. After a promising first year and offseason before his second campaign, high expectations were placed on Armstead, expectations that he was ultimately unable to fulfill.

Nevertheless, despite an injury plagued second year, he offered a tantalizing glimpse of a massively upgraded pass rushing ability. Despite the 49ers’ move to a 4-3 defense this offseason, this ability can be a major transformative force within the 49ers’ defense.

In two years Armstead has appeared in 24 games, starting a total of 5. His severely injury hampered second season resulted in him appearing in only 8 games and starting 4. He has recorded 4.5 career sacks, with 2.5 last season, and has 34 combined tackles on his career.

Nevertheless he graded positively as a pass rusher per PFF with a 73.2 pass rushing grade as well as being the most productive pass rusher at the 3-4 defensive end position according to PFF.

Basic info

Age: 23 (24 on November 15)
Experience: 2 accrued seasons
Height: 6’7
Weight: 292lbs

Cap status

Third year of four-year rookie contract with a cap hit of $2,684,353. The 49ers will have to decide next spring on his 5th year option. If the 49ers traded him this offseason after June 1, they would carry $1,354,569 in dead money this season and $1,354,569 in dead money next season.

Why he might improve in 2017

The combination of Jim O’Neil’s scheme and the worsening of a long standing shoulder injury wrought havoc with Armstead’s run defense. The repairing of his shoulder coupled with a move to Robert Saleh’s aggressive one-gapping scheme should significantly help Armstead in this area.

Furthermore, his pass rushing, incredibly effective despite the shoulder injury, should improve with Armstead operating at or close to one hundred percent. The team have spoken about the possibility of Armstead operating as the team’s LEO, at least on base downs; representative of the belief they have in his high potential as a pass rusher. With his long, powerful arms and explosive abilities, Armstead has the ability to cause offensive linemen serious headaches. Regardless of where he lines up along the defensive line (strong-side end might be where he is best), Armstead, now fully healthy and going into his third year in the league, has the potential to help to anchor an explosive defensive line.

Why he might regress

Armstead could be woefully miscast as a LEO - the team’s primary edge rusher. He appears to lack the prototypical speed, bend and explosiveness that has previously been required of the position. Offensive tackles are the only players on the offensive line who are likely to be able to consistently negate Armstead’s long arm length, potentially negating his bull rush and swim move and he lacks the bend to consistently beat them round the edge. If he fails as a LEO, it will be up to the coaching stuff to adapt and put him into a position that is better suited to his skill set.

Odds of making the roster

A near-certain lock, Armstead is heavily favoured to open the season at one end of the 49ers’ defensive line. Whether this is the strong side or the weak side remains to be seen. Even if he is beaten out by another player (most likely one better suited to the LEO role such as Eli Harold or Aaron Lynch) expect him to be heavily featured in the defensive line rotation to keep recent top-ten picks, Solomon Thomas and DeForest Buckner fresh.

One way he may not make the roster? If the 49ers trade him to a team running a 3-4 defense, which though unlikely could be an option if the right offer comes along.