BIG XII

KU’s Armstrong Jr. more upside than developed

When the 2017 college football season kicks off for much of the country next weekend, teams across the country will begin nearly a two-month journey for a hunt for a postseason berth.

It will also officially kick off the early preparations for scouting draft eligible players for the 2018 NFL Draft. One of the names that analysts may have circled is University of Kansas defensive end Dorance Armstrong Jr.

And it’s for good reason.

The upcoming junior for the Jayhawks had a breakout season as a true sophomore a year ago after starting the final five games of the 2015 season as a true freshman. In 12 games, the 6-foot-4-inch defensive end from North Shore, Texas registered 56 tackles, 20 tackles for loss (fifth most in FBS) and 10 sacks. His sack totals were second best in the Big 12 and placed him in the nation’s top 20. Even more impressive is that Armstrong Jr. was named the Big 12’s Preseason Defensive Player of the Year, the first in school history.

While there have been rumblings that the lengthy speed rusher from Kansas may have the ability to solidified himself as a first round lock, after watching a handful of games from last season, it might not be a bad thing to bump the brakes of the hype train.

First glance

The first thing that sticks out about his tape is his frame. He appears to carry his weight well and has long arms that could develop into an asset. He also has immense athleticism, displaying good change of direction (COD) when asked to loop in line games or when playing zone reads. His strength plays a factor is one of the few bright spots when playing the run, understanding how to keep a strong base or playing with strong hands.

Where he excels

Long and strong

Motor. Motor. Motor. Was it noted that Armstrong Jr. has a motor?

When it comes to chasing down from the backside, there may not be a greater threat in the Big 12. An explosive first step allows him to quickly get a jump from the backside on outside zone. The only area of chasing from the backside that he needs to refine is his depth. There are times where he is often too deep, causing him to take poor angles. He also excels in pure hustle plays. While some of the plays may be because of his own doing by getting out of position, Armstrong Jr. displays the effort to continue his pursuit.

While it will be noted later in depth that development in his hand placement is pivotal to his growth, he does manage to show enough strength not to be washed down the line when facing various down blocks. He keeps a strong base underneath him, allowing to stonewall most attempts. When facing a base block, his long reach blended with his strength, enables him to lock out would be blocks while also continuing to fight forward for penetration.

Speed kills

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As a pass rusher, Armstrong Jr. is a one-trick pony. The only thing is that trick is usually pretty effective. With his explosive get off, he is quick to threaten opposing tackles. His bend on the edge improved with each game as a sophomore, understanding how to better utilize the tackle to his advantage when his speed was unable to earn him the easy win.  According to PFF, his 11.6 pass-rush productivity ranked second in the Big 12 and No.23 among all draft eligible prospects.

Improvement against the run

According to Pro Football Focus, Armstrong Jr. ranked No.69 among draft eligible players in run stopping ability. In PFF’s Elliott Rooney’s full breakdown, it was stated that of a possible 405 snaps in 2016, he recorded only 23 tackles, which gave him a run stop percentage of 5.7.

The biggest area in his ability to play that run that needs improvement is his hand placement. He is too inconsistent with his hands, often striking each of the shoulders of opposing offensive lineman when playing a shade rather than striking a breastplate and the respective shoulder. Now, it’s always an unknown whether or not the specific scheme calls for him to “two gap” but based alignment and the fills from the linebacker, it rarely appears that is the case.

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Refinement in his hand placement will also alleviate the issues of continually being turned when facing base blocks. With his size and arm length, there should be much more of a struggle for opposing lineman to be able to cut him off.  Better hands will also allow him to control his opposition better, enabling Armstrong Jr. to shed blocks with more ease.

Improvements as a pass rusher

The first thing is that Armstrong Jr. needs to understand the asset he has with his reach. With a wingspan like his, the ability to win based off leverage is something most rushers would dream to have. Of his 10 sacks, most of which came by way of simply be a more superior athlete than the opposing lineman. With refinement to his hand placement, his ability to effective gain leverage will come much easier.

He also needs to develop more of a skill set when in his rush. Too often is he trying to win solely off his athleticism alone, which when against polished offensive tackles, leaves him struggling to regain his rush once stalled. He shows glimpses of attempting to utilize a “stab” or straight-arm rush on the edge. While he does a good job of keeping his arm locked out, the location is often inconsistent, making the slightest difference between a sack, a pressure, or staying blocked.

There also needs to be growth when activated in stunts up front. As a looper, there are times where he fails to really threaten the tackle, getting him to commit before jumping inside, making it easier for the opposing guard and tackle to pick up the stunt. He also comes in high with really no agenda. When he is tagged as the penetrator, he also attacks too high, but also square, providing ample surface area for opposing guards to strike.

One final tidbit that stood out about Armstrong Jr. as a rusher is that there is often too much processing going on within his first two steps. Rather than firing off the ball and then reacting to what he reads on the fly, he often does it as a backward process, attempting to read before reacting. At times, it pays off. However, in a good chunk of his attempts, it often slows his approach making him have to work that much harder to win an edge.

Evaluation

It’s no secret that Armstrong Jr. has immense athleticism which ultimately plays a key factor into his success. However, it’s also no secret that he is extremely raw fundamentally. Based off his tape as a sophomore, the hype train should bump the brakes on the “first round lock” talk. The key to his improvement as a junior is predicated off of the growth made from 2016 to this season with his hand placement. If he was able to refine his hands and can consistently attack the correct landmarks, he could be in for a big season. As of right now, Armstrong Jr. could be a late day 2 selection.

 

Josh Zimmer is a Draft Analyst for NGSC Sports.

Follow Josh on Twitter: @JZimmerNFL

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Joshua Zimmer
Josh Zimmer is the Lead NFL Draft analyst for NGSC Sports as well as serving as a contributor for NHL coverage.
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