Prospect Name: Dorance Armstrong Jr.
Class: Junior School: Kansas
- 2017 2nd Team All Big 12
- 2017 All Big 12 Preseason Defensive Player of the Year
- 2016 Unanimous 1st Team All Big 12
*numbers are subject to change based on NFL combine results
Dorance Armstrong Jr. has decided to forgo his Senior season at the University of Kansas and enter the 2018 NFL draft. He leaves Kansas with 15 and a half career sacks, which is tied for 8th all time in school history. His most notable accomplishment during his time as a Jayhawk was his 2016 season where he logged 20 Tackles for Loss and 10 sacks, which is tied for the 3rd best single season sack total in the history of the school. This breakout season got him on the radar of national talent evaluators. NFL.com analyst Lance Zierlein compared Armstrong to recent 1st round pick Haason Reddick; he made sure to point out how athletic and diverse Armstrong can be when rushing the passer.
Armstrong was unable to build off his strong 2016 as he only logged 2 sacks on the season. The perception about him changed throughout the 2017 season as he was unable to sustain the level of success he had as a pass rusher his 1st 2 years at Kansas. But often with player evaluation there is more to the story than just stats and perception, as perception is not always reality; added responsibilities and a willingness on Armstrong’s part to forgo individual stats for the betterment of the team led to a drop off in sacks and pressures but it force him to speed up his overall development and in turn made him a better overall player and prospect. There was tangible evidence that this move was a positive one for the Jayhawks defense as the change in responsibilities led to them allowing 64 fewer rushing yards per game and a yard less per carry over what they allowed in the 2016 season.
Armstrong logged 718 snaps during the 2017 season (359 pass rushing snaps and 359 defensive run snaps), proving that he can be more than just a specialist, the 359 run snaps were 3rd most in the group. His 10.6 run stop perception was tied for 6th in the class; the 38 run stops that he accumulated throughout the season was 2nd best in the class, missing only 4 tackles on the year.
- Kansas at Oklahoma 2016
- Texas Tech at Kansas 2017
- West Virginia at Kansas 2017
- Kansas at Ohio 2017
How Does He Win?
The gif above was an incredibly promising play from Armstrong; Dorance displays patience, strength, intelligence and his athleticism. He allowed the play to develop, letting the QB make the decision on the Read Option. Once the QB declared Armstrong blew up the double team block from the TE and RB and brought down the QB before he could let go of the pass.
Remember that sack totals are not always indicative on the impact that a player has on the game or season. Here we see Armstrong take advantage of the overmatched West Virginia TE. He was able to blow up the designed roll out. He forced the QB to speed up his process which eventually led to the clean up sack by his teammate as the QB did not have the opportunity to find a receiver down the field.
Again we see the impact that Armstrong can have on a game without bringing down the QB. Armstrong displays a beautiful inside swim move, his blend of speed and quickness was too much for the RT and he wrecks any chance Baker Mayfield had of staying on script and finding an open receiver. Armstrong’s presence forces Baker out of the pocket and into throwing an errant pass over the head of his favorite target, Mark Andrews
This next gif is a combination of two redzone plays against Texas Tech. We see great effort, recognition, patience and athleticism from Armstrong. The first of the two plays is a display of Armstrong’s motor and hustle, he never gives up on the play and even though he is initially out of the play he continues to see it through and ends up assisting on the play. The second play we are able to see the recognition skills that Armstrong has as a run defender. Armstrong trails the play, allowing it to unfold in front of him. He allows his teammates to force the RB back inside as they successfully set the edge and a DB blitzes through the open run lane. He does a fantastic job of stoning the RB and forcing him backwards, eventually ending up with the football in his hands.
This next play treats us to a showcase of Armstrong’s speed and athleticism as he runs down 2017 2nd round pick RB Joe Mixon. Mixon had no chance to gain any positive yards as he was caught before he could make his way through the lane opened up by his teammates. This is the kind of exciting play from Armstrong that shows why he could be a really effective 3 down player at the next level.
Where Does He Need to Improve?
The first aspect that stands out in terms of where he needs to develop is the lack of consistent counter moves that he has and the propensity on his part to primarily rely on his effort and athleticism to beat offensive lineman to the QB. For him to have any chance of sustained success in the NFL he will need to develop the mental aspect of his game. Teams will quickly figure out how to negate a player’s potential impact unless they have gone through the process of self-evaluation and development. Knowing opponents and their tendencies will be huge for Armstrong as he has all the necessary tools to be a multi-dimensional pass rusher who can take advantage of the weaknesses of his opponents.
In this gif, Armstrong attempted to employ a spin move but as you can see he was largely shut down and ends up on the ground with the RT over him. Being able to effectively rush the passer is as much a mental war as it a physical one. You can not simply throw out a move and be able to consistently win. The best pass rushers always have a gameplan in mind that is player and scheme specific. Only the elite of the elite are able to consistently succeed with their physical gifts.
What is also of concern is how often Armstrong loses the strength advantage to opposing offensive linemen. Far too often you see his speed and quickness countered by either sound technique or power and Armstrong is unable to adjust. Even lower tier tackles have been able to stone wall him.
This is from the West Virginia game.
The OL was able to wall off Armstrong using sound technique, stance and balance; from the second the ball was hiked he had proper form and Armstrong never once forced him to deviate from his plan of attack. These are the type of teaching moments that Armstrong will need to use to further his evolution as a pass rusher.
The last major concern that I have about Armstrong and his transition to the NFL is the lack of diversity in where he was lined up. Of the 359 pass rushing snaps that Armstrong had during the 2017 season, 300 of them were from the left side of the defense. In other words he was primarily lined up against the opposing team’s RT. Now while there is logic to this move, placing the team’s best pass rusher against what is generally a slower player whose strength is run blocking makes sense, but it has hindered Armstrong from developing as an overall pass rusher. Teams are looking for diverse pass rushers that can rush from a variety of locations. Every once in a while the Jayhawks moved Armstrong around but it was not enough to have substantive impact on his development. He will have to show teams that he has the ability to line up on either side of the OL and generate pressure.
Where Would I Take Him?
After completing my analysis of Armstrong I would place him firmly in the 3rd tier in this class of EDGE players. I would argue that Armstrong is the 2nd best EDGE run defender in the entire draft, only behind potential top 5 pick Bradley Chubb of NC State. His demeanor, willingness to play the run and athleticism will be incredibly appealing to NFL teams who are looking for EDGE players that are not just specialist but can be full time players.
(Outside of potential injury) I fully expect Armstrong to be one of the standouts at next month’s Scouting Combine. His blend of speed, quickness and athleticism will be tailor made for the drills that he will go through in Indianapolis. That will also be when he will be able to dispel concerns that some in the scouting community have about his potential size entering the league.
If he is able to standout at the Combine and during his Pro Day in March, I would expect teams to be looking at Armstrong towards the back end of the 2nd round with his potential floor being in the early 4th round. In my eyes that is a very solid range for him to go in. His talent level could potentially warrant him going a little higher than this, but given that he took a step back as a pass rusher and even at his best he was still raw and would need a lot of developmental time with an NFL level coaching staff.
Armstrong is a really fascinating prospect to watch and analyze; while he has not yet received the same kind of hype as the other members of his class have received he can be one of the most diverse and well rounded in this group of EDGE players. Because his draft stock peaked in 2016 when there was 1st round buzz around him he is forced over the next few months to showcase himself to decision makers around the league with the hopes of rebuilding the once promising perception that people had of him. He has an exciting skillset and a nonstop motor that will serve him well at the next level. He is no where near a finished product and a lot of work needs to be done to improve his game but that being said he has the ability to instantly contribute as a rookie. The progress he made in 2017 as a run defender and the workload that he endured as the centerpiece of the Jayhawks defense prove that he can be a true 3 down player in the NFL.
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