Many would consider this defensive EDGE rusher class a weak one once you get away from the top. Beyond Bradley Chubb, Harold Landry and Marcus Davenport, you’re going to get some question marks. Yes, one of those question marks is Arden Key. From my point of view, I question his motor. His weight has been up and down due to injury, so finding out where he plays comfortably could be a challenge. His bend off the edge when stopping the run was far too inconsistent and needs improvement. These are just from my notes, and they will certainly be different from others’. The consensus top four EDGE rushers are the ones I’ve listed. So what happens beyond them?
It’s a great question, and today I’m going to uncover one of the players I’ve grown to like since the beginning of the 2017 season. That player is Dorance Armstrong Jr. from Kansas. He was a three-star recruit coming out of North Shores High School in Houston, Texas. He had offers from all over the country, including Cal, Texas Tech, and Missouri. Ultimately, this led to him getting an offer from Kansas, and after a visit to Lawrence, he decided to commit to the Jayhawks.
Much like Arden Key and Harold Landry, the numbers in 2016 were much better than they were in 2017. It was an odd year for these pass rushers. They played a bit out of position and were asked to do more than just rush the passer. For Armstrong Jr., that’s a good sign. He was able to exhibit some of his run stopping abilities. However, by him playing out of position, there were times that he looked lost on film. There were times he was guessing what play was coming and where it was going. To provide further context, let’s jump into the film.
- Explosiveness looks limited, at least not consistent
- Doesn’t display his arsenal of pass rush moves when rushing the passer
- Inconsistent hand usage during his pass rush
- Hips look stiff and looks limited athletically
- Questionable play strength in 1-on-1 situations
- Mental processing isn’t bad, but far too inconsistent
On the play above, you’ll see Armstrong (#2) lined up as the left defensive end. He’s on the outside shoulder of the right tackle and in a 5-technique. Within this play, there will be a blitz off the outside and the quarterback drops the football. But on the initial pass rush from Armstrong, there’s a nice burst off the ball, and he plays below pad level. However, look at the hand usage. There’s nothing there, and this is something that’s far too inconsistent from him.
Again, we’ll see Armstrong (#2) lined up as the left defensive end and over the right tackle. He’s hardly in a shade, and playing heads up on offensive tackles isn’t something that plays to his strengths. Having him play in a 3-man front isn’t something I would consider, either. Squeezing plays down and trying to prevent himself from getting washed down will be another area to improve on. With this play, you’ll see him totally guessing. He bounces inside, and my guess is because he believes the play is going to the A-gap on a trap play, but ultimately, he makes the wrong read. Mental processing needs to be an area that improves moving forward.
- Consistent bend off the edge in stopping the run and getting to the quarterback
- Good pursuit to the quarterback and ball carrier
- Flashes ability to read and react into the backfield
- Versatility to rush in the ground or standing up
- Long arms (83″ wingspan), which allows him to create plenty of separation
- High motor that is consistent throughout the game
- Plays below pad level with good initial punch
On the play above, you’ll see Armstrong (#2) hold his gap (C-gap) and then pursue to the football. The high pursuit he puts on display is consistent throughout games and it’s key for defensive ends to do it.
On this play above, we’ll see Armstrong (#2) rushing as a left defensive end again. On this rush he puts some really good pressure on the quarterback. He establishes this pressure after a TWIST (line stunt) with the 3-technique. During this rush, he rips off the guard that slides over and slows him down from sacking the quarterback. Again, though, this is a solid play for Armstrong. He didn’t have high sack numbers for the 2017 season, but that doesn’t mean he can’t get after the quarterback. This was a perfect play to show what Armstrong is capable of on pass-rushing situations.
With his length, he could certainly be a 3-4 OLB. He's lined up inside and takes the A-gap from the LG. Dorance Armstrong Jr., is a stud. pic.twitter.com/aeosWiviQr
— Russell Brown (@RussNFLDraft) September 4, 2017
Going back and watching the 2016 tape on Dorance Armstrong Jr., you’ll notice the flashes and love every minute of it. His versatility really stands out, and in 2016 he looked more fluid and athletic. I love what he brings off the edge, his bend is good and consistent in stopping the run and rushing the passer. Again, he doesn’t have the functional play strength in all 1-on-1 situations, but off the edge he shouldn’t have issues controlling the C-gap (the edge) with his length.
Moving forward to 2017, he plays out of position at times. He also looks stiff but flashes fluidity and athletic ability. To provide more insight on that, here’s some of his numbers from the 2018 NFL Scouting Combine. I think these numbers do a great job of supporting what I’m talking about with his overall athletic ability.
When the 2018 NFL Draft arrives, I don’t expect to hear Dorance Armstrong’s name on the opening night of the draft. From a grading standpoint, it wouldn’t be surprising to hear his name on day two of the draft, likely in the third round. On our grading sheet, he graded out with a 4.136, which qualifies him for an early 4th round grade and a projection to be a year 2 starter.
Everything is there for Armstrong to be a successful player on Sundays. I want to believe that he can play with his hand in the dirt, but watching him as a stand-up edge rusher in a 3-4 defense would be an ideal fit. When watching him, there are times that he reminds me of Shaun Phillips, a former hybrid edge rusher who was quite successful for the Los Angeles Chargers. Armstrong Jr. needs some re-sharpening of his tools and technique, but once it all comes together, he can be one of the most productive pass rushers in this class. If the Green Bay Packers pass on Harold Landry (EDGE from Boston College) with the 14th overall selection or if he’s off the board, don’t be surprised if Armstrong is their pick at 76th overall or 97th overall.
Again, this might not be the most talked about EDGE rusher class, but there’s plenty of promise with Dorance Armstrong Jr., especially in the mid-rounds of this draft.