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Yes, Virginia. Arik Armstead is Playing Excellent Football.

Bret Rumbeck
Dec 13, 2018 at 11:08 AM


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Among topics I never thought I'd wake up to read this year was a hollow argument about the play of San Francisco 49ers' defensive lineman Arik Armstead.

When it comes to politics and sports, flash opinion, belief without evidence and 'my feelings' rule the day. Facts are scoffed at and ignored like Grannie Annie's mincemeat Christmas tarts.

In May, I asked how Armstead fits on this year's defensive line. Armstead wasn't a big success as an edge defender last season, and I wanted defensive coordinator Robert Saleh to move Armstead inside.

However, the 49ers lacked any real talent at the edge coming into the 2018 season. It was clear Armstead would remain as an edge defender, though I was confident the talent Saleh had on the defensive line would result in an increase in his production.

Sometimes, it's nice to be right.

What plagued Armstead in previous years – injuries, surgeries, an overall lack of development – has disappeared this season. Until 2018, Armstead missed 18 games due to injury. He'd only amassed 34 solo tackles and 6 quarterback sacks, nothing notable for a first-round draft selection.

This season has been a rejuvenation for Armstead. Through 13 games, he's played 500 snaps with 191 coming from the LEO position. But, he's shown versatility this year, taking snaps at each spot on the defensive line.

Pro Football Focus currently ranks Armstead as the 19th best edge defender in the NFL with a grade of 79.9. His overall defensive grade is up 10 points from last season.

Armstead's best improvement is in his run defense. Today, Pro Football Focus grades him at 87.4, placing him as the third-best edge defender against the run. Last season, he finished with a 66.0 run defense grade. My math isn't always so hot, but I believe that is a 21.4-point increase.

This season, Armstead has 27 tackles, nearly tripling his total number from last year. Armstead's 3 sacks, 24 hurries, and 19 stops for a loss are also vast upgrades from previous seasons.

Of course, fans and experts will probably debate the following topic over a Dust Bowl beer and Jura's hot wings: Would a coach rather have a top talent who dominates at one position, or have a player like Armstead who can fill in anywhere on the defensive line and have success?

Frankly, with the 49ers still struggling to find a consistent edge rusher, I'd take Armstead's ability to play anywhere rather than someone who can only play a 3-technique.

Here is my favorite play Armstead made during the Week 14 win against Denver.

4th Defense: 2nd and 10 at the DEN 25 (9:35)


The 49ers' defensive line aligned in a four-man front, with Armstead in the A-gap on the open side of the formation. Armstead is in a 2i alignment. At the snap, defensive linemen Solomon Thomas and DeForest Buckner both moved to their left; defensive end Ronald Blair, playing the LEO, looped around the right tackle.

Armstead exploded through his gap with such intensity that center Connor McGovern could not keep his feet or obtain any leverage.

After McGovern ended up with his face looking at the green grass, Armstead was alone with running back Lindsay and took him down for no gain.

I'd encourage you to watch the tape of the play and witness how quickly Armstead shot the gap and pursued the ball carrier. The facts are in the film, not in someone's uneducated opinion.

Further, do not believe anyone who says or writes that Armstead isn't 'getting better.' That is a mythical fable cooked up to appease a false reality. The vast improvement in Armstead's production is why general manager John Lynch needs to resign Armstead to a new deal during the offseason.

All images courtesy of NFL.com.
All statistics courtesy of Pro Football Focus.
  • Bret Rumbeck
  • Written by:
    Bret Rumbeck has been writing about the 49ers since 2017 for 49ers Webzone and 49ers Hub. He is a Turlock, CA native, and has worked for two members of the US House of Representatives and one US Senator. When not breaking down game film, Bret spends his time seeking out various forms of heavy metal. Feel free to follow him or direct inquiries to @brumbeck.
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.


2 Comments

  • Marcus
    He’s not going to be getting a monster deal, and if we do eventually get a pass rusher (???? Bosa ????) he will be moved inside with Soloman Thomas moving to LEO. With him and Buckner inside it would be an absolute nightmare for opposing QB’s.
    Dec 13, 2018 at 2:13 PM
    1
  • Niner-Fan
    It's not a secret that players pickup their play in contract seasons. The question is will Armstead play as well once he gets his extension?
    Dec 13, 2018 at 11:41 AM
    1


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