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.
Aravious “Ray-Ray” Armstrong has been something of a journeyman in his NFL career thus far. Both undersized for a linebacker and with considerable red flags surrounding his dismissal from Miami, he went undrafted in the 2013 NFL Draft, before becoming an UDFA signing of the then St Louis Rams. He was waived in 2014 and claimed off waivers by the Raiders; before being waived by the Raiders in 2015 and claimed the following day by the 49ers.
He has found a slightly more permanent home in San Francisco, helped in no small part by his efforts last season where he played his way into the linebacker rotation and was essentially a starter (if not in name) before cruelly getting hurt in week two. Despite being signed to a new contract as a result of his performances, Armstrong faces a battle to make the 53 man roster this season, as the 49ers signed two stack ‘backers who had familiarity with the new scheme in Malcolm Smith and Brock Coyle.
Experience: 4 accrued seasons
Armstrong signed a two-year contract extension last December. He received a $500,000 signing bonus. In 2017, he will earn a base salary of $1 million and a roster bonus totaling $250,000. He received a $100,000 workout bonus for the offseason workout program. His cap hit this season is $1,329,166. If he is released, the 49ers clear $1,175,000 in cap space and carry $166,666 in dead money.
Why he might improve in 2017
Though he only played in two games last season, Armstrong’s displays were eye-catching enough to earn himself both a new contract and considerable excitement surrounding his potential with fans. His pectoral injury is unlikely to affect him long term, and if he can return to the levels he flashed last season, he will make the linebacker competition an extremely interesting one.
With two spots available for Navorro Bowman, Malcolm Smith, Reuben Foster, Brock Coyle and Armstrong (without even considering the proliferation of dime packages where only one “linebacker” is on the field) the competition for playing time at linebacker will be fiercely contested. The quality at the position is considerably higher than last season, and the players themselves have a range of different strengths that mean they all have solid reasons to make the roster.
One could certainly argue that Armstrong’s is particularly strong in coverage (demonstrated by an 81.0 coverage grade per PFF), but last season his run defense was also solid and he has some ability as a pass rusher. His coverage skills are nevertheless the most significant reason to keep him on the roster. This is particularly the case given that Bowman is coming off two severe leg injuries, Smith has struggled in coverage in the NFL, and Foster is a rookie and likely to go through the same coverage growing pains that even the best rookie linebackers go through.
We could well see Armstrong reprise his role as a sub-package linebacker, a role that will likely see him on the field as much as, if not more than, the base package stack linebacker duo. If he plays 16 games at last season’s levels, that will certainly qualify as improvement.
Why he might regress in 2017
It seems like his past disciplinary issues are behind him so the reasons for regression are likely to be exclusively performance based. It could be that Armstrong was one of the few players that actually suited last years scheme, where his mobility meant that he was able to react extremely well to what was going on in front of him. Nevertheless, I think that the main way Armstrong “regresses” is if he fails to make the 53 or is buried down the depth chart behind Foster, Smith and Bowman and the nickel linebacker sub-package responsibilities he might have filled are instead filled by a safety (and thus some of those possible nickel packages technically become dime).
Odds of making the roster
Armstrong’s finds himself on the strong bubble but his talent should see him make the roster over Brock Coyle. His adaptation to a scheme that arguably suits him well thanks to his aggression. Mobility is unlikely to be much of an issue, and Armstrong offers NFL starter-level quality even as the third or fourth linebacker on the depth chart. That is a huge asset in any time, but especially when there are health question marks over two of the top three or four guys.