Arik Armstead Described as Explosive, Unique by Jim Tomsula, Trent Baalke

Leading up to the 2015 NFL Draft, many draft analysts had the San Francisco 49ers picking defensive tackle Arik Armstead out of Oregon in the first round of their mock drafts. The 49ers have made unexpected first round draft picks in the past, but in this case, the 49ers selected the player that they were linked to in many mock drafts after trading down from the 15th overall pick to the 17th pick to select Armstead.

Jim Tomsula, the 49ers’ new head coach, seemed especially excited about the Armstead pick, since he had previously been a defensive line coach for the 49ers. Tomsula shared his thoughts on the pick during a press conference on Thursday:

“It’s exciting. He’s a really fine young man. I can’t say we started the whole process, how many months ago, thinking about a defensive lineman. But Arik was there. You’ll be very impressed with Arik.”

“You talk about the (ability to) bend, you talk about the athleticism, you’ve seen enough plays that he’s got some power and push and explosion. When you look at his body, it’s all there. Now you meet the guy and it’s intriguing, it’s a nice guy, a good guy. And he’s a competitive guy. But he’s inconsistent and young and we’ve got to grow it up, and he’s got to grow it up. It’s us working together in the development of football.

Armstead is 6-foot-7 and 290 pounds and played basketball at Oregon. He has a 34-inch vertical leap and a 117-inch broad jump. Tomsula is intrigued by Armstead’s athleticism and the size that he brings to the position. Some have criticized Armstead’s low sack totals in 2014 (2.5), but his athleticism is what intrigued the 49ers and what makes him so unique.

49ers general manager Trent Baalke spoke about this and more in his post-Draft press conference on Thursday:

“He’s unique in the sense that he’s 6-7, he’s 290-plus pounds. He runs in the 5-flat range. He’s a tremendous athlete for his size and for that position. Four techniques are hard to find in the National Football League. True four techniques, guys that can two gap, play with leverage, leverage blocks and control the line of scrimmage. That’s a big part of what we do here. In any given draft, there’s four or five. I’m not sure that we’ve ever had more than five on our board that we felt were draftable. Certainly there’s more guys that can play it, but guys that we truly covet as draftable players, I’d have to go back and look at each board, but I believe no more than five.”

There’s been some good football players, and I think if anyone goes back and takes a look, you’ll see, there’s been some awfully good football players that have played that technique in college and haven’t been real productive in terms of sacks. There’s a lot of other ways to measure production and I think if you look as the season went on, he got healthier, he got more experienced, he played more football. He played his best two games last, against Florida State and Ohio State.”

“We put a time frame on any of that. That’s really up to the individual. How hard they’re willing to work. The guys in that locker room, we feel very confident that we’ve got a good group of defensive lineman here already. None of those guys who are watching this right now are thinking that he’s going to walk in and take their job, I promise you that. Arik’s going to have to come in here and earn every rep that he gets, no different that any player that’s ever been drafted here.”

As Baalke said, the 49ers are aware that Armstead represents a wide array of upside but also potential risk. He has the physical features and athleticism that could make him successful in the NFL. However, he also experienced some inconsistency at Oregon. He’s incredibly young (21 years old) and clearly has a lot to learn, but Armstead is aware of this.

Armstead arrived at 49ers headquarters on Friday, and one of the many things he spoke about was how he’ll have to work hard and earn his playing time, even though he was a first round pick. He’s aware of the development that he still needs to go through, given his inconsistency and his injury troubles in college.

“No playing time is going to be given to me, and I want to earn everything,” Armstead said. “I don’t like stuff being handed to me. I’ve never been that kind of guy. I’ve earned the right to be here.”

As Golden Gate Sports co-editor Sean Bialaszek said in his recent article about Armstead, “the 49ers drafted potential more than performance with this pick.” The focus on potential over performance is fairly common for teams in the NFL Draft. However, this approach might be more common in the later rounds when teams aren’t risking as much money.

This pick was somewhat predictable for the 49ers, but it was also somewhat risky and assertive, given the questions surrounding Armstead’s production and future in the NFL.

Do you think the 49ers made the right choice with their first round draft pick? Should they have picked someone else instead? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below.