Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Why it’s time to give 49ers DL Arik Armstead the respect he deserves

Rohan Chakravarthi
Jan 25, 2022 at 12:00 PM--

Arik Armstad's overpaid. The 49ers should've stuck with DeForest Buckner. Arik Armstead's had one good season in his career.

Prior to this season, there were many narratives spoken about 49ers defensive lineman Arik Armstead and his value to this football team. He had been the man stuck in DeForest Buckner's shadow, as Buckner reminded fans during San Francsico's improbable Super Bowl run two seasons ago, while Armstead was just seen as his interior complement.

However, after injuries to Nick Bosa, Solomon Thomas, and Dee Ford derailed San Francisco's defensive line early in the 2020 season, Armstead was left as the last member standing of that talented 2019 group and garnered a ton of attention.

His contributions were severely underrated, as his presence ultimately paved the path for role players like Kerry Hyder Jr. to get advanced pass-rushing opportunities, which was why Robert Saleh's defense had a top-ten finish in 2020, despite the loss of several key pieces.

In 2019, Armstead had a 10-sack season, en route to his handsome five-year, $85 million extension. In addition, Armstead accumulated 73 pressures and 42 stops, per PFF. He worked most effectively as an interior pass rusher, where his skillset was utilized against outmatched interior offensive lineman. Playing alongside two solid edge rushers in then-rookie Nick Bosa and recently-acquired Dee Ford allowed for Armstead to work on the inside, and it paid off.

In 2020, with the lack of starting-caliber edge rushers due to injury, Armstead was forced to work more on the outside, where his sack numbers diminished to a meager 3.5 sacks, as well as 41 pressures, but his double-team and chip rate increased from 2019.

Fast-forward to 2021 and Armstead has most definitely become one of the 49ers MVPs defensively.

At the beginning of the season, first-year defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans suggested that the defense would be more aggressive from a defensive line standpoint, meaning that more weight would be on Armstead, Bosa, D.J. Jones, and the rest of the deep group.

Armstead, specifically, has responded admirably, becoming an elite run-defender, while maintaining his pass-rushing prowess.

On the season, Armstead has ten sacks to go with 59 pressures and 36 stops, re-invigorating that well-rounded performance that he showcased in 2019, alongside fellow defensive linemen D.J. Jones, Nick Bosa, and Arden Key, who, as a group, have formulated arguably the best defensive line in the NFL this season.

Over the last four games, Armstead has been on a tear, getting six sacks, 17 pressures, and 11 stops, per PFF, and has paved the way for four straight standout defensive performances from San Francisco, in which they've faced the likes of Matthew Stafford, Dak Prescott, and Aaron Rodgers. That's a tough task to face once, let alone three times, and San Francisco has allowed just 58 points in those four games.

Earlier this season, defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans credited moving Arik Armstead inside as the reason for San Francisco's impressive turnaround with their run-defense, which has been the #1 run defense since Week 8.

"I think our run defense improved drastically because of the unselfish play by Arik Armstead," defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans said. "I think people kind of forget we lost our starter in Kinlaw early in the year, and we were trying to figure that out inside. When you want to play good run defense, you have to have two really good interior defensive linemen. And Arik unselfishly moving inside [helped], and D.J. Jones has been outstanding all year."

San Francisco has ranked sixth in yards per rush, sixth in yards per game, third in sack rate, and third in yards per play defensively, which has come through a strong second half, as the defense has propelled this team into the NFC Championship game.

Moral of the story: it's time to stop sleeping on Arik Armstead, whose performance this season has proven why he's worth the money he's been paid. He's been a multi-dimensional threat as both an elite run-defender and solid pass-rusher, and he's a big reason why San Francisco is in this position. His performance Sunday will certainly be a factor in San Francisco's chances to make their second Super Bowl in three years.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


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