49ers’ 2019 ‘Who Is?’ series: Defensive tackle Arik Armstead

SANTA CLARA, CA - OCTOBER 23: Arik Armstead #91 of the San Francisco 49ers reacts after a sack of Jameis Winston #3 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during their NFL game at Levi's Stadium on October 23, 2016 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CA - OCTOBER 23: Arik Armstead #91 of the San Francisco 49ers reacts after a sack of Jameis Winston #3 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during their NFL game at Levi's Stadium on October 23, 2016 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images) /

San Francisco 49ers defensive tackle Arik Armstead enters a provocative 2019 while on his fifth-year option. Niner Noise’s “Who Is?” series breaks down the context.

Just before the 2019 NFL Draft, there was a small rumor the San Francisco 49ers were willing to trade four-year pro defensive tackle Arik Armstead, perhaps as part of a move-up package or at least to clear up what’s turned into something of a logjam along the defensive line entering this season.

Nothing came of it, of course, but that doesn’t change the fact Armstead is hitting what will be a crucial year in his pro career.

Playing on his fully guaranteed fifth-year option, worth $9.046 million, Armstead’s role and snap count in 2019 are likely to be impacted by the presences of fellow defensive linemen, DeForest Buckner, Dee Ford, Solomon Thomas and Nick Bosa — all of whom could be assuming starting roles in Week 1.

For San Francisco’s first-round draft pick from 2015, what does the future hold? More importantly, how will Armstead improve or regress this season after enjoying easily the best year since joining the pro ranks?

Arik Armstead Defense & Fumbles Table

Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/6/2019.

Niner Noise’s “Who Is?” series takes a deeper look.

Why Arik Armstead Improves in 2019

One of the knocks against Armstead when he came out in the 2015 draft was he wasn’t quite the sum of his parts and needed a good deal of development and polish to meet his potential.

Limited use that year, plus injury-plagued seasons in 2016 and 2017, likely hindered that maturation process. So it makes sense Armstead’s 2018 campaign was his best.

Just how good? Behind Buckner, Armstead was the 49ers’ second-best defender a year ago, according to Pro Football Focus, posting an impressive 74.8 overall grade.

Armstead solidified those numbers as one of the Niners’ top run defenders. And while he had just three sacks on the year, his 26 quarterback hurries put him second behind Buckner (31) in that category, too.

One of the chief goals Armstead should have this season is to become more than just a run defender and quarterback chaser, if that makes sense. Turning some of those hurries into sacks would massively boost his future stock beyond 2019.

Essentially in a contract year, he’ll have to while avoiding some of the reasons why he could regress.

Why Arik Armstead Regresses in 2019

One shouldn’t suggest Armstead is injury prone. But since he has dealt with serious injuries in two of his four years at the pro level, it has to be pointed out.

Last season, Armstead seemed to thrive as the strong-side big end in the 49ers’ 4-3 Under scheme. At least on passing downs, potentially even on rush downs, Armstead is going to be bumped out of this spot by Bosa, who is equally effective against the run and not just a strict pass-rusher.

More on that later, but there’s a good chance Armstead winds up seeing less time in pass-rushing situations than he did a year ago.

Given his actual sack numbers don’t equate to what the 49ers appear to be doing up front with their pass-rushers, this would make sense. And it likely cuts into his total snap count, too.

What could wind up happening, ultimately causing a would-be regression, is for Armstead emerging in 2019 primarily as a run stopper only, lessening both his role and value to the defense.

Potential Role with the 49ers

Buckner and Bosa are all but guaranteed prominent roles on the defense for all downs, essentially. Ford should be out there on most passing situations, leaving a key camp battle between Armstead and Thomas for the remaining defensive tackle spot.

The current Niners regime has more invested in Thomas, of course, and he’s the cheaper option. Based off last year, however, Armstead is the better player. And San Francisco is in position to start winning now and not proverbially building towards the future.

This likely gives Armstead the edge here.

As for how the 49ers use him? Given his effectiveness against the run, it wouldn’t be a shock to see him on either end, perhaps staying on the strong side, while Bosa takes over for Ford on the weak-side end, leaving Buckner and nose tackle D.J. Jones on the inside.

On passing downs, it’s a bit more straightforward. Armstead and Thomas likely wind up battling it out for the strong-side defensive tackle spot.

Even if Armstead loses this camp competition, he’ll get his snaps, as the Niners look to keep their D-line rotation fresh.

Yet that ultimately cuts into his 2020 free-agent value, which isn’t what Armstead wants to see happen.

Next. 5 stats where the 49ers must show improvement in 2019. dark

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