As most are aware, the Chicago Bears need help at offensive tackle. For years, the club has had issues with pass protection on the edges, and last season was no different. The team gave up 44 sacks in 2012, eighth most in the league. That was an upgrade over 2011 (49 sacks, 5th most) and 2010 (56 sacks, most in the league).
When Jay Cutler has protection, he can perform at an elite level. Yet for as long as he's running for his life, he'll never develop into the franchise quarterback the organization, and the city of Chicago, wants him to be. So this offseason, the Bears will be scouring both free agency and the draft for help on the edges.
With that in mind, there is one offensive lineman currently shooting up draft boards: Terron Armstead of Arkansas-Pine Bluff.
Coming from a small school, most weren't aware of Armstead heading in to the 2013 NFL Scouting Combine. After his record-breaking performance, he was suddenly on the tip of everyone's tongue.
Let's go to the film room to see if this early round prospect could cure the Bears' offensive-line woes.
Arms: 34 inches
Hands: 9 ¼ inches
40-yard dash: 4.71 (a combine record for offensive linemen)
Bench Press: 31 reps
Vertical Jump: 34.5 inches (1st at his position)
Broad Jump: 112.0 inches (4th best)
3-Cone Drill: 7.62 seconds
20-Yard Shuttle: 4.72 seconds
As his combine performance showed, Armstead is an athletic freak. Coming out of high school, he passed up scholarships at bigger schools so he could play both football and track and field. He ended his collegiate career as three-time All-SWAC football player and an eight-time SWAC champ as a shot putter.
On the football field, Armstead started 37 games, mostly at left tackle. He's light on his feet, and has outstanding quickness and change-of-direction ability. His lateral movement is off the charts, allowing him to mirror defenders effortlessly. He's a natural pass blocker who looks very comfortable protecting the quarterback's blindside. He shows great awareness on stunts and blitzes. He keeps his base wide and has active hands. During all the film I watched, I never once saw Armstead give up significant pressure. Against speed rushers, he was excellent at driving defenders past the pocket.
In the run game, he's a functional blocker who relies more on angles and technique than pure power. He does a good job of sinking his hips when driving defenders. At the second level, his athleticism allows him to consistently cut off linebackers.
Despite his agility, Armstead is often slow out of his stance, forcing him to use his quickness to recover. He's also a little high in his drop back, although he still handles the bull rush well.
His biggest weakness is in the run game, where he gets almost no push. If he doesn't acquire the proper angle, defensive lineman can easily beat him. He doesn't have a strong upper or lower body and cannot physically move defenders out of the hole.
That said, his extreme athleticism could allow him to flourish in a zone scheme like the one the Bears are expected to run under offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer. But if you're asking Armstead to man up and drive a big defensive lineman backward, it's not going to happen.
Of all the offensive tackles I have analyzed, Armstead is the most natural pass blocker of the bunch. He's fluid with his footwork and his balance is amazing. He's never fooled by double moves and drives pass rushers into the ground if they fall off balance. After watching the available film, I am thoroughly convinced he can protect the blindside at the NFL level.
Yet his run blocking needs a lot of work and he'll never be a mauler. For those reasons, he'll never play right tackle in the pros. He's a pure left-edge blocker.
The Bears have J'Marcus Webb on the left side. He has struggled in the past but made significant improvement last year. Still, he has never shown a consistent ability to protect out on an island. With his improved run blocking, Webb may be a better fit on the right side, where he played as a rookie. That switch would make room for Armstead, who would go a long way toward shoring up pass protection in Chicago.
Yet if the Bears aren't willing to move Webb around, then Armstead makes no sense. He has value, and would be worth a second-round pick if GM Phil Emery wants to make that move, but only the left side. If new head coach Marc Trestman wants to get lighter and faster an offense, then Armstead is a great way to start.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.