Here is a link to my Friday column about the 49ers’ first-round pick Arik Armstead. The full text runs below:
SANTA CLARA — Trader Trent Baalke traded down for that?
The 49ers’ genius in training traded back from No.15 to No.17 for defensive lineman Arik Armstead, a man guaranteed not to make a difference. It’s always a pity when a team’s No.1 pick won’t make a difference.
Some TV guy said Armstead has “upside.” I forget which one said it. Who cares? Upside means the player needs to improve. Means he hasn’t arrived and may never arrive, and needs coaching up. From that coaching staff?
The 49ers have a million needs — call them holes — on their deteriorating roster. They certainly have need-holes on offense. Offensive linemen. Running back. Wide receiver. Tight end. And quarterback — yes, quarterback. With all those needs on their enfeebled offense, they drafted a defensive lineman. It scrambles the mind. Tickles the funny bone. Engages the snicker response.
You may think Armstead is the pass rusher from heaven. The pass rusher the Niners crave. Armstead is the next great pass rusher if Aldon Smith gets hurt or gets in trouble. Run after that quarterback, Arik. Drop that sucker.
In three college seasons, Armstead sacked the quarterback — fasten your seatbelt — four times. That’s slightly more than one sack per season. Russell Wilson just ordered a medical prescription to control mounting anxiety. Or maybe he’s dying laughing.
Forget pass rusher. Get real. I’ll tell you Armstead’s role — his theoretical role. He is the new Ray McDonald. He will be the big D lineman who clogs the middle and wrestles the running back to the ground. Fine. Every team needs a Ray McDonald.
It’s just that the Niners already had one. They had a very good Ray McDonald in the sense of having the real Ray. They didn’t have a mere knockoff Ray, a carbon copy Ray.
They got rid of Ray because — well, I don’t know why. It was something about winning with class, although the league allows McDonald to play, and he will play for the Bears. So, the Niners got rid of the real Ray and drafted the ersatz Ray — I mean Arik — for no good reason. Call the Ray McDonald-Arik Armstead exchange one big minus for the 49ers.
After the first round ended, Baalke and coach Jim Tomsula justified the pick to the media. Baalke said he “coveted” Armstead. Covet is a strong verb. When asked about Armstead’s sack deficiency in college, Baalke said, Armstead’s numbers were not “unspeakable.”
Not unspeakable is no kind of recommendation. Imagine you wrote a paper in English class and your prof said, “Your paper is not unspeakable.” Would you feel good?
So, OK, Armstead is not unspeakable.
Let’s speak the speakable. Or let Tomsula speak. “We’re not in a situation where Arik has to come in and plug,” the coach said. “He’s not a guy coming in and has to fill a hole.” Tomsula meant the Niners have other linemen. If that’s the case, the Niners should have drafted someone they actually need.
And get this, because Armstead didn’t exclusively become a football player until last season — he also played hoops — he is not as strong as required and needs weight-room work. “We’ve got to grow it up,” Tomula said of Armstead’s game. “He’s got to grow it up.”
One more Tomsula quote, if you’ll allow me: “Is (Armstead’s play) as consistent as you want? No.”
Arik Armstead is a project. The 49ers used their first-round pick to draft a project. Took a flyer on a project. Good grief.
Armstead on the conference call with media sounded like a good guy. He promised to “work hard.” What football player on one of those calls ever promised not to work hard, promised to loaf and take the money for little or no effort? Wouldn’t you just once love a player to say, “I’ll play video games instead of watching tape and I’ll be the last to arrive at the facility in the morning and the first to leave at night.”
Armstead promised to work hard. Give him that.
Because he played for the mighty Ducks of Oregon, The Oregonian newspaper wrote at length about his play. One would assume The Oregonian had laudatory things to say about an Oregon college player. One would assume The Oregonian did due diligence in its research. Glance at some comments from The Oregonian:
Addressing Armstead’s playing weaknesses the writer wrote, “Where to begin?”
As my mother would have said, “Oy vey.”
When Armstead’s sheer strength didn’t work against offensive linemen, when Armstead required technique, he was lost. That’s what The Oregonian said: “It’s surprising to watch how little Armstead appears to understand his position.” As they say, that’s all she wrote, although the writer was a man named Andrew. I was just using the expression.
The writer found Armstead so remedial he didn’t think Armstead worthy of being a first-rounder. The Niners should have read his article before making their call. Asked about his alleged remedial status, Armstead said, “I don’t think I’m raw.”
Hmm. The Niners sure think he is.
Am I criticizing Armstead? Sure I am. But that’s the minor part of things.
The real criticism goes to Baalke and Jed York. They seem clueless. They are presiding over the decline and fall of the 49ers. And they don’t know it.
Before the 49ers traded down and before they took Armstead, York tweeted, “Will #TraderTrent move up?!?! #DraftDay
Let’s get this right? Jed sat in the War Room near Baalke and didn’t know the deal. Because, obviously, Baalke didn’t move up. He moved down. Does Baalke ignore the team owner? Does he toy with him? Scoff at him?
And Jed’s tweet was so — what’s the right word here? — juvenile? Like a gushing teenager at a Beach Boys concert. I’ve long suggested Jed should give up his tweeter, just surrender that tweeter. It gets him in trouble.
I’ll tell you this. The fan base has served notice on Trader Trent and Jed. The football world has served notice. The 49ers seem a step behind other teams — the good teams — or seem to lack self-knowledge, or seem to lack the ability to draft skill players on offense. Baalke is in love with size and strength, is blind to the subtle stuff. If Armstead is a bust, this could be Trader Trent’s last draft.
And what about Jed? He once had a good team, an elite organization. What have you got now, Jed?
Well, you have a first-round project. Beautiful.
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