Every single year there are players who could be considered snubs for the NFL's yearly Pro Bowl honors. This year it was a surprise to not see Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott, Vikings linebacker Eric Kendricks or Titans cornerback Logan Ryan on the list. All three are having seasons you wish could have been rewarded with a Pro Bowl nod. But, of course, there are only so many spots to fill and it can be a popularity contest, at times.
Another player who is having a season deserving of not only Pro Bowl honors but potentially an All-Pro title is San Francisco 49ers defensive lineman Arik Armstead.
Armstead came into the NFL by way of the 2015 draft, where he was the No. 15-overall selection in the first round out of Oregon. Armstead is now in the fifth and final year of his rookie deal, and it sure seems like he timed things the right way to hit his best in his contract year.
The 49ers currently have the No. 1-overall seed in the NFC playoff picture with one game to go. Much of their success this season can be attributed to their defense, specifically their defensive line. In a group with guys like Nick Bosa, Dee Ford, DeForest Buckner and Solomon Thomas, Armstead is making his mark in a big way.
Armstead's current stats read: 53 total tackles, 10 sacks, 11 tackles for loss, 17 QB hits, two forced fumbles and three passes defended. He is also Pro Football Focus' third-highest graded edge rusher with a rating of 89.7 on the season.
How does leading one of the best defenses in the NFL in sacks while posting one of the highest edge performances grades on the season not garner a Pro Bowl appearance? Some guys don't let it bother them, or at least tell you they don't pay attention to it.
Armstead isn't one of them.
"I'm mad. I’m mad, definitely. It’s something you dream about getting," he said. "You work hard for it and you feel like you deserve it and you don’t get it. It’s beyond my understanding but it is what it is."
I love it. I love that attitude. Sure, as a pro player there are many things you need to block out but Armstead is right in saying players grow up talking about the ones who made the Pro Bowl. Armstead should have this year.
He currently has 10 sacks — his career-high before this year was three. Armstead also has 11 tackles for loss — his previous best was six. And for the second straight year, he will have started all 16 regular-season games.
So what kind of leverage does all that give Armstead as he prepares to hit free agency? Let's take a look at the tape and see just how Armstead is winning at a whole new level this season.
Play No. 1: He's Large, That's The Play
As an intro to what Armstead is capable of, we have to talk about what you're getting from him as a base. At 6-foot-7, and nearly 300 pounds, Armstead is a lot to handle (literally) for any offensive lineman. His long arms allow him to control his assignments in run defense, but what as the play above demonstrates even further is that he is strong with those long arms, which is not always the case.
Coaches will tell you that even though it is becoming more and more of a passing league, you still have to be able to defend the run. Armstead's physical tools are something you cannot teach or even acquire in many other players. That alone raises the floor of his market value right out of the gate.
Play No. 2: Big Man, Fast Hands
Big guys have a tendency to move in slow motion a bit. That's why when you find a player who has increased size without sacrificing speed, that's when you get into some of the freak athletes that play professional football. Armstead is one of those.
Look at the speed and strength of the handwork in this clip. Not only did Armstead get that guard to uncomfortably shuffling back further than he's used to, but he also couldn’t handle the speed and length combo of the hand swipe and therefore could only hope to grab and hold Armstead of the QB pressure (and he couldn't even do that).
Play No. 3: Length Plus Leverage
Just like it's not always a guarantee that players can keep speed with length, it's also not a guarantee that defensive linemen who have length can also maintain leverage. Leverage is key for playing in the trenches. The old saying "low man wins" really is true each and every snap. We already mentioned why teams might covet length in the trenches. They can take up more space in running lanes and they are also hard to handle when it comes to short-armed guards pass blocking. However, sometimes it's harder for those taller, longer players to keep low.
For Armstead, he seems to really be mastering his leverage with his 6-foot-7 frame. As you can see in the clip above, that tends to generate a lot of power when he hits it right.
Play No. 4: Smart Players Make Smart Plays
Sometimes in this crazy football world you have to choose between a player who is more athletic and one who might process the game better. In Armstead's case, you don't have to.
Take the play above, for example. As a fifth-year player in the league, Armstead has shown an increased awareness to make plays on the ball in ways that go further than sacks and tackles in the backfield.
Play No. 5: Edge Rush Moves On The Inside
By far my favorite aspect of Armstead's game is that when you roll it all up together you can really play this guy at any position along the defensive line and can assume that some level of success can be generated. He'll never be a Von Miller kind of speed edge bender, but Armstead can certainly win one-on-one on the edge. We've shown that he can also win at 4i and 3-tech spot on the interior, and now in the plays above we're seeing he can create space and get into the backfield using both speed and power from a nose tackle position.
If you ask me, this is what makes Armstead's value one that will surely cash out when this season is over. Armstead is listed as a defensive end. He just turned 26 years old and just had by far his most productive season of his career. The top defensive end contracts are held by Demarcus Lawrence and Frank Clark who both fall just north of the $20 million per year range. Both were also 26 and both were coming off one of if not the best years of their career when they signed their deals, too.
It might not be that $20 million per year number, but Pro Bowl be damned, Armstead is poised to command a lot of money this offseason for reasons as numbers as the position along the line that a defense can play him.