Don’t Sleep on Arik Armstead Taking Over as the “LEO, Pass-Rusher.”

Niners Live recaps Mr. Arik Armstead’s NFL journey and in the same breath presents: Don’t Sleep on Arik Armstead taking over as the “LEO, Pass-Rusher.”

 

The Journey of Arik Armstead and how did we get here? 

Arik Armstead, a first round pick in the 2015 draft, was seen as a project player who the team could develop in the mold of former Arizona Cardinals’ defensive lineman Calais Campbell, 6’ 8” and 300 lbs. He played basketball in college, and his body was still molded like a basketball player’s. The team knew he would have to increase his strength and work on maintaining his low pad level, which is crucial for a tall defensive lineman.

The 6’ 7” and 292 lbs. Armstead headed into the 2016 season with high expectations; however, a shoulder injury ended his season prematurely. He had an up and down season while playing. Armstead held his own versus the pass, 73.2, but struggled against the run, 39.1 (per Pro Football Focus, subscription required).

Important to note: In eight games during 2016, he registered 15 total tackles, and two and a half sacks (nfl.com).

Armstead, under former San Francisco 49ers’ coach Jim Tomsula and arguably one of the best D-line coaches in the NFL, was used more as an outside edge rusher his rookie season. Tomsula had a specific package/role for Armstead instead of throwing him into the fire as an every down 3-4 defensive end. This plan was successful; Armstead made the All-rookie team and led the team in quarterback hurries with 29. His rating against the pass was 76.3, and 78.8 against the run. (Notice the big drop in ratings versus the run as aforementioned).

This past 2016 season, he played more (four-technique) 3-4 defensive end position but struggled to maintain his gap responsibility versus the run. Part of the reason for this was not just the lack of getting his pads lower as aforementioned, but his eagerness to get up the field to pressure the passer à la his favorite bull rush move and his shoulder injury made it difficult to shed blockers once he became engaged with an offensive lineman.

Armstead enters a new season/era and a clean slate in 2017:

Recently, via ESPN.com, head coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch talked about turning Armstead loose and allowing him–TO–GO–GET–THE “QUARTERBACK”. Lynch said he couldn’t speak for the last defensive regimes system, or what they did or didn’t do with Armstead, but they want him to focus solely on getting to the QB. And if he’s healthy, the overall consensus is that he could be “Special” getting “Up the Field“. His “Versatility” would be key in helping to create multiple looks along the defensive front potentially kicking Armstead inside on third-down to play the 3-technique after starting out at the 5-technique on first and second downs, respectively.

Are you saying the 49ers could pair Armstead with Solomon Thomas inside together on passing downs? Yes, that’s also, a possibility, no doubt. Only time will tell. But new defensive coordinator Robert Saleh has a plethora of options at his disposal, and certainly some nice toys to play with.

Such a lineup could foster, heck, even create a platform for success. Not just for Armstead, but the 2017 49ers’ defense, as well. Like top 10 defense level, even? Simply put, how could opposing offensive line units defend such multiple looking fronts, right? Right, our point exactly.

So what’s the best position suited for Armstead to do just that, arguably? The “Leo” position.

Why you shouldn’t sleep on Arik Armstead:

Before entering the 2016 season, Armstead was having the best camp of any player on the team, ascending towards becoming a Pro-Bowl caliber player. At least that seemed the case from the eyeball test in training camp as far as fellow players and coaches were concerned according to former 49ers’ defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil on Armstead via Eric Branch of SFGate.com.

“When the shoulder kind of went on him, where he lost strength in that, he wasn’t the same player,” O’Neil said. “I do credit the kid for trying to fight through it. And trying to play to the best of his ability to try to help his teammates out. But he really wasn’t the guy he was in spring and in training camp that, as a staff, we felt would be a Pro Bowl, All-Pro-type difference-maker for our defense.”

Here’s what former Arizona Cardinals, Pro-Bowler, and x-teammate Darnell Dockett had to say about Armstead:

“At some point in his career, man, he’s going to be a dominant force, and he’s going to be terrorizing everything, even in the locker room,” former 49ers defensive tackle Darnell Dockett said, according to ESPN.com’s Paul Gutierrez.

Courtesy of Pro Football Focus: San Francisco 49ers’ DL Arik Armstead had an NFL-best 11.2 pass-rush productivity rating in 2016. He also led the league in 2015 with a 12.3 pass-rush productivity rating (38 total pressures in 236 pass rush snaps).

Are your eyes Wide Open?

Note: To the “LEO” position Arik Armstead is coming:

Armstead still has untapped potential, and this new regime as aforementioned knows it to be oh so true and without question. Armstead is in a much better position to become the incumbent starter at the Leo position (left weak side defensive end 5-teqnigue) than fellow teammate Aaron Lynch who Niners Live recently discussed; Overweight Again? Is it Time to Move on from Aaron Lynch? But the buck doesn’t stop there. Recently, Matt Maiocco said Lynch has to earn the confidence of the coaching staff and front office.

The 49ers are desperate to find a double digit sack leader on this defense that has been ranked one of the worst in the league in overall defense and sacks the past two seasons 2015, and 2016 respectively (via Sports Reference).

It will be fun to watch all this competition unfold as the 49ers move through their off-season training camp, pre-season, and the early part of the 2017 season to see who emerges as the clear-cut effective pass rushing “LEO” on this 49ers’ defensive unit.

Niners Live also notes: Honorable Mention in the competition race for the “Leo” position is newcomer; Pita Taumoepenu, an explosive, 243-pound pass-rusher drafted in the sixth round of the 2017 draft out of Utah. Also, a third-year player and former third round pick Eli Harold out of Virginia will have his service in the mix, no doubt.

Thought we left new defensive coordinator Robert Saleh and the rest of the talented players on defense out of the mix did you? No, we didn’t. Niners Live recently brought you: How New DC Robert Saleh should Utilize his Defensive Talent.

Recent 49er news:

As always, keep your eyes wide open, 49er fans. Niners Live will be watching with you. #eyeswideopen and often imitated but never duplicated… Go Niners.

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All records, statistics, and accolades are courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com, Pro Football Focus49ers.com, ESPN.com, NFL.com unless otherwise indicated. Author, Editor Niners Live.