Baalke: “You never trade back unless you have an alternative plan in mind. We felt good about two players. Arik was the one we were coveting at that pick. But at the same time, you never trade back unless you know that if you’re guy’s taken, you have a Plan B. When Miami was on the clock, I was on the phone with San Diego. If their guy wasn’t picked, we had already executed the trade in principal and when they’re guy wasn’t picked, we just went through with it.”
Q:) What jumped out about Armstead?
Baalke: “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.”
Q:) On Armstead’s lack of sack totals…
Baalke: “I’m not going to compare. You don’t compare guys over history and I’m certainly not going to compare him to other players that have come through. But if you go back and look at some of the guys that have been picked and played that technique and the way they play them in college, to have 1 ½ or 2 ½ sacks in a season isn’t unspeakable. 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.”
Q:) How polished is he?
Baalke: “I think you see when they come into the National Football League, to really get the techniques down to play that position the way our guys have to play it, there’s a learning curve. You don’t just walk into the National Football League and play defensive line in our defense or some other defenses in this league that play true two-gap defense. First of all, you don’t find many colleges that do it. The unique thing is up at Oregon, they do a lot of the similar things that we do so the learning curve for him should be a little bit quicker, but at the same time, there’s a lot of development that has to take place.”They’re hard to find. You talk to people in this league that do what we do in the evaluation process and you need those guys to play the type of defense that we play. Without them, you can’t play this defense. So he’s a young man that we identified that has the traits, has the skill sets, has the want to, to play it the way we play it.
Q:) Why are they hard to find?
Baalke: “How many 6-7, 290-pound men do they make? Chris Canty’s one. There just aren’t many. A lot of them are playing basketball, which this young man did for several years and then he committed to football full-time. So you’ve got a young man that hasn’t spent a ton of time in the weight room, he’s been on the courts. You’ve got a young man that hasn’t started a lot of games. He came out early, chose to come out early. So there is going to be some development to this process. We’re well aware of that and feel very confident that he’s going to come in and learn how to strain and play at this level.
Q:) How quickly to make an impact?
Baalke: “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.
Q:) Have to project him more based on lack of production?
Baalke: “I don’t think so. You look at the first round, and I don’t have the board in front of me right now, but there’s always projections. This is a draft that you’re going to have to develop these guys. One thing we have to remember with these guys is first of all they’re young. They’re coming into a whole different game. The college programs are only getting 20 hours a week to work with these young guys. And to come into the National Football League and play a skill position is difficult. To come in your first year, your first game out of the shoots, to come into the National Football League and line up on the line of scrimmage, that’s a whole different animal. There’s growth that has to take place for all of these young men and he’s no different.”
Q:) What stood out in the last two games/Pac-12 title game?
Baalke: “I saw him play live twice this year. I did see him vs. Arizona here. I always saw him, I can’t remember the game, up there. I saw him play twice. The first time I saw him play up there, he was playing on a bad ankle. He got injured early in the season against Michigan State, suffered a high ankle sprain. So there were some films that weren’t what you would expect to see. But as the season went on and he got healthier, once again the Ohio State game I believe he had nine tackles in that game. For any of us that have coached D-line, and I have, you look at that and you say, when you’re playing a true four technique in a read scheme and you’re not playing to the ball, that’s a lot of production for a four technique.”
Q:) On picking a player who was projected to the 49ers…
Baalke: “I needed to appease the media. I looked at what you guys were recommending and ladies and it was a consensus for the most part that he was going to be the pick, so I figured it’s my only shot to get you on my side.
“It really worked to our favor this year because in some respects, I would think that for the last few years, as you mentioned, everyone that we were associated with, we never picked. So now this year, we were associated with this young man and we picked him. So in some ways it worked in our favor a little bit because the national media as well, put Arik down as a strong consideration. If you watched the NFL Network, all the mock drafts they had, I think six of the seven or five of the six individuals that do that, had him in that slot. It’s just how it played out this year.”
Q:) How rewarding to get your guy and add two draft picks?
Baalke: “We always talk about value. When the trade became available, we looked at each other, coach and I, ‘Was it worth the risk? Do we want to take a chance, move back two spots, pick up two additional picks, one this year, one next year and hope that our guy continues to fall?’ But at the same time, we were prepared to make another pick as well. When I say covet, we had five or six guys we were really looking at, at that spot. And five or six guys you could say that we coveted at that spot. And he was one of those five or six. It’s just how the board fell. And there was no movement up front as all of you saw. There were no trades and it wasn’t for a lack of effort. There were people calling and we were doing our due diligence as well. It was tough trying to get anywhere.”
Ryan is the Founder/CEO of NinerFans.com, 49ers Beat Writer, Live Game Day Correspondent for Bleacher Report and member of Pro Football Writers of America. Born and raised in San Jose, he also graduated from San Diego State University. His work has been featured on NFL Network, 95.7 The Game, National Football Post, Sports Illustrated, FanSided Network, ESPN Radio, CBS Sports 810, and NBC Bay Area News. For more information, please contact him via email at ryan@NinerFans.com or call him at (408) 622-0996.
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