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Star Evaluation: How Will Armstrong Develop?


With free agency looming in March, roster turnover isn't far away. However, the majority of the 2019 roster is already in place. In the coming weeks, will feature players who are currently under contract for next season, analyzing their past season and their future prospects.

Today, we continue the series with defensive end Dorance Armstrong.

What's Been Good: Dorance Armstrong had a role to play for the vast majority of his rookie season, which is an accomplishment worth praising from a rookie drafted in the fourth-round. It's hard to make an immediate impact as a Day 3 prospect, especially at pass rusher, but Armstrong made a positive impression coming out of training camp. He appeared in 15 of the Cowboys' 18 games and was active when he got his chances. Playing behind veterans like DeMarcus Lawrence, Tyrone Crawford and Randy Gregory, Armstrong played just 27 percent of the defensive snaps and finished with 15 tackles, half a sack and six quarterback pressures. It's not an impressive resume, but it's something to build on. For a guy drafted No. 116 overall, it's a start.

What's Been Bad: Armstrong's rookie season seemed to show the classic signs of the fabled "Rookie Wall." The youngster was downright impressive during training camp, regularly getting the best of veteran blockers. He was impactful in September and October, registering 10 of his 15 tackles during the first half of the season, including his half-sack in the loss to Tennessee. The second half seemed to show a decline, though, as he managed just five tackles the rest of the way and was a game day inactive on three occasions – including both of the playoff games. That's not surprising for a fourth-round pick, but it's something he'll need to improve on heading into his second NFL season.

2018 Highlight: The Tennessee game isn't particularly memorable, given that it was the low point of the 2018 season – but it did provide the first sack of Armstrong's career. The rookie lined up at left end in place of DeMarcus Lawrence and tried to rush around right tackle Dennis Kelly. Armstrong couldn't capture the edge on the massive tackle, but Marcus Mariota made his job easier when he tried to pull the ball down and run straight up the middle. Armstrong disengaged his blocker and cut back to the inside, reaching Mariota at the same time as defensive tackle Caraun Reid. The duo brought Mariota down for a loss of two yards, splitting the sack between them.

What's Next: Armstrong is the classic "rising sophomore" to watch in 2019. He was solid, although not spectacular in a limited role as a rookie. Now, he has a chance to take another step in his development. These are the type of progressions that can take rosters to another level. You can't understate how big it would be for the Cowboys if Armstrong, a Day 3 draft pick, develops into a real-deal difference maker at one of the most important positions in the game. For reference, think of the good Trey Flowers, pick No. 101 for New England in 2015, has done for the Patriots in recent years. Simply stated, it's hard to find consistent sack production outside of the first two rounds of the NFL draft. If the Cowboys can get that from Armstrong, it'd take their defense to another level. Obviously, whether or not he can take that step is the question we'll be asking heading into training camp.

Dorance Armstrong was an effective role player as a rookie. One of the most fun questions facing the Dallas defense is how much he can progress in Year 2.

Bryan Broaddus' Bottom Line: If there was a rookie I thought would come in and contribute from the jump, Dorance Armstrong would have been that player for me. What was impressive about Armstrong is that the staff used him at both left and right defensive end. Usually, for young players, they want to just play them on one side and let them learn before moving them around. Like I thought, Armstrong flashed promise early working against Tyron Smith and La'el Collins, so I was encouraged by what was ahead for him. Generally, when you can have success against these tackles, that translates into success against lesser opponents during the season -- but that wasn't the case for Armstrong. For every two or three good snaps, there were those that resulted in little. It wasn't for a lack of effort or preparation; it just didn't click like we had seen in Oxnard. Is the talent there for Armstrong? No question. With a full offseason in the weight room, he can build on the experiences he had lining up each week as an active, rotational player.