Arik Armstead is not only the San Francisco 49ers’ best interior pass rusher, he’s one of the most productive interior pass-rushers in the NFL. Contrary to recent media reports, Armstead will rush the quarterback on passing downs.
Now that the San Francisco 49ers’ mandatory minicamp is completed, the following month may be the least news-worthy month of the year. It will, however, be a month full of 49ers rumors.
The latest rumor surrounds 49ers defensive lineman Arik Armstead.
On Tuesday, Brett Whitefield of Pro Football Focus published an article titled, “Armstead might not play much on passing downs.” In his article, Whitefield refers to a recent piece by Grant Cohn of the Santa Rosa Press Democrat:
"Grant Cohn of the Santa Rosa Press Democrat believes that offseason additions will prevent San-Francisco 49ers’ edge defender Arik Armstead from contributing on passing downs"
In Monday’s article, Cohn sings Armstead’s praises before stating that Armstead will be the odd man out for the 49ers in obvious passing situations:
"But on passing downs, Armstead probably won’t play defensive end — Ahmad Brooks and Elvis Dumervil will. And Armstead probably won’t play defensive tackle — Buckner and Thomas will. That means on passing downs Armstead probably won’t play at all."
However, Armstead will play on passing downs — and the two reasons why are right there in Whitefield’s article.
Armstead is the 49ers’ best interior pass-rusher
In Whitefield’s piece, he admits that Armstead has been “very effective rushing the passer, leading all 3-4 defensive ends in pass-rush productivity each of the past two years.”
Earlier this year, PFF’s official twitter account had similar kind words about Armstead’s pass-rushing performance:
Why wouldn’t the 49ers allow their elite interior pass-rusher to do what he does best?
The 49ers will rotate their defensive linemen
The second reason why Armstead will play on passing downs can be found at the end of Whitefield’s article, in the “Related Posts” section.
On Monday, Pro Football Focus’s David Neumann published an article titled, “DeForest Buckner was “dead tired” at times in 2016.”
"San Francisco’s new coaching staff appears intent on reducing Buckner’s workload in 2017. Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh called Buckner’s 2016 snap total, “criminal,” and said that ideally he’d like all of his defensive lineman, “working about 500, 600 snaps and trying to utilize everything they’ve got every snap that they’re on the football field.”"
Buckner played over 1,000 snaps in 2016. If Saleh limits Buckner to 500 snaps in 2017, who will replace the defensive lineman during the other 500 snaps?
Would Saleh rather replace Buckner with defensive lineman Chris Jones on early downs, or with Armstead in passing situations? The choice is simple.
And as Saleh stated, the 49ers’ interest in keeping their linemen fresh isn’t limited to Buckner. 49ers defensive line coach Jeff Zgonina recently spoke about being “a rotation guy.”
"I’m allowed to rotate guys as much as I want, and I will do that. I told those guys, ‘You give me four-to-five plays full-tilt, I’m going to rotate you.’ I believe in fresh bodies all the time. I don’t like to see guys play more than 1,000 snaps in a season.”"
It’s hard to image a rotation that doesn’t include Armstead on passing downs.
If recent history is any indicator, Arik Armstead will be a force against the pass for the 2017 San Francisco 49ers — especially on obvious passing downs.