Following the conclusion of last season, it was clear what was going to occur with Arkansas’ wide receiver room. Replenished with transfers Jadon Haselwood and Matt Landers last season, they would inevitably take on the NFL. With the pair vacating their seats, contributors Warren Thompson and Ketron Jackson also took on a new chapter.
While the staff still believes they have something in the young players behind those leaving, there was still going to be too much of a void to stare into. Bryce Stephens – when discounting Rocket Sanders’ receiving stats – is the returnee with the most yards from 2022. How many yards was that you may ask? On just nine catches, he totalled 109 yards. Jaedon Wilson is even further back due to lack of playing time up until the Liberty Bowl. In all, the Razorbacks lost over 2000 yards worth of production from pass catchers. It certainly made the stomach churn leading into the first portal window, but Pittman was ready to search far and wide.
Flowing back into the present slowly, the aforementioned Haselwood and Landers presented themselves in the NFL Combine once it rolled around. While one can shrug at that statement, it was marketing material for the Arkansas coaching staff. Bringing in two coveted wideout transfers for one season and sending them off to the draft? That paid major dividends for Arkansas’ search, needless to say.
Getting involved with countless wide receivers at different levels in the portal, the Razorbacks returned with three top-notch, yet under the radar prospects. With Isaac TeSlaa and Tyrone Broden already covered, Andrew Armstrong remains. Armstrong was the first wide receiver to anchor down in Fayetteville out of the portal and he holds just as much, if not more potential than the others.
The path to stardom that Andrew Armstrong has paved for himself is one that would have been unprecedented looking back at his high school days. Coming out of Bishop Dunne high school near the Dallas area, Armstrong’s career held pedestrian numbers on the field. Recording 30 catches in his career, he collected 450 yards and seven touchdowns. While his senior year was enough to earn an Honorable Mention All-District nod, schools weren’t breaking down his door as a raw prospect.
One thing that Armstrong could hold near to him is that he is a winner. After becoming a two-year letter winner in football, the unranked receiver (via 247 Sports) opted for the Division II route. As one of Armstrong’s only offers, Texas A&M Commerce earned his signature.
Coming into his freshman year as a lanky outside receiver, a redshirt would keep him from playing in any games. The COVID season would follow in 2020 and his team wound up canceling the season, allowing Armstrong to continue to marinate in the system. Finally seeing the field by 2021, the redshirt sophomore ultimately produced. Playing in ten games for the Lions, he hauled in 15 balls for 297 yards. As with the other two transfer receivers, Armstrong took pride as a deep-ball catcher. Averaging 19.8 yards per catch, he would also catch three touchdowns. The stage then shifted as Texas A&M Commerce made the jump to the FCS level.
No one expected the explosion to come his redshirt junior season, however. Armstrong would play in 11 games during 2022 and caught a team best 62 passes. He would also lead the team in receiving yards with 1,020. With a production increase of 413% in receptions and 343% in yardage, the only statistic to dip was his yards per catch. The drop from 19.8 ypc to 16.5 was no surprise with his increased catch numbers. Armstrong would also haul in 13 touchdowns which also led the team.
Playing against some of the toughest FCS competition week in and week out, Armstrong collected six games of over 100 yards receiving. He even did so against future FBS team Sam Houston State, a game where he caught seven passes for 104 yards. After a stellar season and finally filling out his frame, Armstrong felt it was time to test the transfer portal and make a jump.
17 total FBS schools threw their name into the hat to try and land the listed 6-6 target. While plenty of Power-Five schools made up the list of suitors, the SEC factor took center stage for Armstrong. Focusing primarily on Arkansas and Mizzou, Armstrong’s visit to Fayetteville was enough for him to call the Hogs back on December 11th. After running through spring ball, he will hold two years to take on the SEC and be yet another dangerous target for quarterback KJ Jefferson.
Supreme Ball-Tracking Ability
If there was a wide receiver from this portal class that was better at tracking a football than Armstrong it would be astonishing. As with the other two deep threat receivers, it starts on fly routes. Not burning defensive backs on routes despite his speed, the football just needs to be placed near him. Some of the catches that stand out the most come from over the shoulder with a defender draped on Armstrong. On numerous occasions near the sideline, locating the football to fall right into the cradle can be unsuccessful. Luckily for Armstrong, his frame has the ability to keep defenders shielded behind him while he focuses on making the catch out in front.
Armstrong also holds this feat on balls thrown straight down the field. Rather than losing speed by twisting to make a grab, he tracks the football out ahead while not sacrificing speed. Some of this credit can be given to the TAMUC quarterback for having the ability to drop those passes in the bucket.
While catches over the shoulder are uber impressive at his clip, Armstrong isn’t a one trick pony. As a bigger wideout, he has a great understanding for high pointing the football as well. It can be as simple as leaping to make a grab or adjusting to box out a defender in one-on-one coverage, he goes up with both hands. Mentioned in the Broden Breakdown, he often used his body and arms to cradle catches the majority of the time.
The aspect of Armstrong’s game that raises his ceiling is time after time using just his hands to make catches – contested or not. The only scenario where he used a body to make a catch was securing the football to the back of a Sam Houston State defender for a touchdown. Armstrong has proven he can make a catch anywhere and on willing victim.
Takes Advantage of Zone Coverage
Combining Armstrong’s ability to make a catch in any form or fashion with a high football IQ just seems unfair. While many receivers can say that they understand how to dismantle the zone, it takes tons of awareness to actually do so. Being able to settle into a hole in zone coverage is rather common knowledge as is. Armstrong excels at doing so, lending credit to having solid burst after the catch. As with his ball tracking ability, it isn’t limited to the singular aspect.
Rather than stopping dead in a zone hole to risk zero yards after the catch, Armstrong expresses patience. Coming out of a cut and realizing he’s found a gap, he slows down to walk-through speed rather than a grinding halt. As long as his QB notices the deceleration, the patience pays off and becomes beneficial after the catch. Staying on the move, no matter the speed, it will keep an easy hit stick tackle from a defender at bay. Factor in the top speed that Armstrong can reach to out run pursuit angles and holding that extra smidge of momentum can make a huge difference.
Near the goal line, Armstrong also has the ability to create windows for his quarterback to throw into. Say he’s on a crossing route just inside the end zone and zone coverage is leaked down across the goal line. While Armstrong has the capability to slide under the coverage to shield the defender, he can do the same without going underneath. Bringing the aforementioned patience back, many defenders expect Armstrong to run full speed transitioning to the middle of the field. Slowing his speed while shifting his shoulders to the opposite side of a DB he opens a window and can absorb the contact that comes with a catch.
Your Do-It-All Wide Receiver
With TeSlaa and Broden being pure deep threat outside targets, there’s finally one transfer that has a little bit more diversity to his usage. When watching his film, it’s clear Armstrong was used in the screen game quite a bit. As a player that would rather get north and south instead of dancing with the opponent, he’s the perfect candidate. Holding the speed that Armstrong exhibits blazing by defenders after the catch, he does the same to stunned DBs near the line.
It begs the question whether or not he could be a player used on potential jet sweeps under coach Dan Enos’ offense? The spring game didn’t aid any proof of that proposition, but the fit would be there. A knock that could keep him behind the likes of Isaiah Sategna and Bryce Stephens for that role could stem from his agility. Displayed after the catch often, he’s quite slippery due to his acceleration, but there aren’t many ball carrier moves in his game. They weren’t put on display often at least. With two light-speed slot wideouts likely better scheme fits, Armstrong may stick to being the primary screening receiver.
Encompassing everything mentioned to this point, it would be hard to dismiss his ability as a red zone threat as well. As with Broden and TeSlaa, Armstrong’s athleticism and frame automatically present him as a danger near the end zone. When you factor in his supreme tracking and sure hands, he becomes just as dangerous as a jump ball threat. Safe to say that red zone sputtering from last season has been addressed via the wide receiver position.
While there weren’t any flashes produced by Andrew in the spring game a few weeks back, it’s hard to argue his game. The minor tweaks that have been pointed out in the other two receivers are aspects that Armstrong won’t need to fix. Out of the three transfer wideouts, he could certainly be the most complete player.
His athleticism may create cases where he can be lined up at any of the wide receiver spots on the field. While he will most likely be an outside receiver for the majority, his size and speed at the slot could be worth a formation or two. His athleticism and high football IQ will increase his overall value and certify him as a matchup problem at every level on the defensive side of the ball.
Holding two years of eligibility including his COVID year, it wouldn’t come as a surprise if his first year in the SEC is much like his first year contributing for the Lions. It didn’t take much for Armstrong to learn the game at that level before exploding onto the scene in his second valuable season. Whether or not it takes time to adjust to the highest level of college football, Armstrong will be utilized. As it stands, a starting wideout spot is his to lose and something tells me he won’t be giving that up any time soon.