Ryquell Armstead rushed for 1,098 yards last season for Temple, scoring 13 touchdowns -- including six against Houston in a game in which he ran for 210 yards. Fresh off a strong Senior Bowl performance in January, Armstead is headed to the combine next week to prove to NFL teams that not only is he a feature back, he can star on special teams too.
And if needed, Armstead can play defensive end. No, really, he was pressed into pass-rushing duty last season (more on that below) and was good at it.
We recently spoke to Armstead about his college career, his Senior Bowl experience, and his expectations for the combine. We spoke separately to Tony Lucas, Armstead's running backs coach at Temple, and we've included his comments below.
Q: We just watched your game against Boston College. Would "running angry" be the best way to describe your style?
Ryquell Armstead: Yes sir. I run angry, I run violent. I look for contact -- that's something that makes me unique.
Coach Lucas: I think what [Ryquell] brings is that he plays with emotion, with passion, it's really like he's got something to prove. Anything that he's gone through, it pours out into his game. In that game [against Boston College] he had gotten some bad news about his grandmother, he was anxious about that, and he went out and performed like he had something extra to play for.
Q: What's the strongest part of your game?
Armstead: I feel like I'm unique -- I'm 223 pounds, I feel like I'm 190 -- I'm very shifty, an inside-zone runner. I look for contact, and at the same time I'm looking for the home run. I can block, catch -- I bring all the traits that a running back has.
Q: It's going to come up at the combine -- you had just eight receptions last season, 14 the season before -- can you consistently be counted on as pass catcher?
Armstead: I can definitely catch the ball coming out of the backfield. Temple just didn't utilize me in the passing game and that's because we played in an offense that featured the all-time receiving leader in Temple history -- that's Ventell Bryant. ... With that being said, we didn't really have to pass the ball as much to the backs. But like you said, I had eight targets this year, I had seven catches. Last year I had 14 targets and had 12 catches. So at the end of the day i can catch the ball, and I'm very excited to showcase that at the combine. And outside the combine, if teams work me out and want me to run routes, I'm looking forward to catching the ball.
Lucas: I think he can be [a consistent pass catcher] but it's something he has to work on. It's not something we asked him to do a ton [at Temple]. With Ryquell, it's not that he can't catch the ball, he's so anxious to do something with it after he catches it that he doesn't always confirm the catch.
Q: So explain to us how you ended up playing defensive end in a game last season.
Armstead: I played safety in high school. Basically, about three or four scholarship backs got hurt this season. ... I told coach [Geoff] Collins, I wanted to go play defense. And we're having fun with that. He [tried me out] at defensive end, I was pretty good at it. A couple of defensive ends got hurt early in the season. He put me in and told me basically, 'If you get the sack, amazing, if not, who cares.' I put my trust in him ... showing what I can do and it's something I'm very thankful for.
Q: Who do you compare yourself to as a defensive end?
Armstead: (Laughing) Von Miller. Very aggressive off the edge, get the strip sack. I actually had a sack this year against Tulsa -- and ran for 108 yards. I was the third player in college history to do that -- record a sack and run for 100 yards.
Lucas: For him, he is the ultimate competitor. There are very few people I've been around who have a switch when it comes to just pure competition, where they find another level like he does. So for him, the challenge of being able to play football on the defensive side of the ball -- Keith Kirkwood, who's with the Saints, had a similar experience in that role the year before -- but he was more excited by the challenge and the opportunity. So for him being able to do it was just him being a kid again and just going out and having fun. You put him on the other side of the ball and say, 'Just go be really fast, really athletic, and get to the quarterback.' ... He was probably as proud if not prouder about that sack than a lot of other things he's accomplished, and he's accomplished quite a bit.
Q: For almost every rookie, playing special teams is key -- can you play special teams?
Armstead: My strong suit on special teams is anywhere they put me. I'm a guy that will go out there and compete and have fun with it. I didn't play that much on special teams at Temple -- I played a little bit my freshman year but [we lost a lot of running backs to injury] and my coaches didn't put [the remaining healthy back] out there [on special teams] just to protect us. But it's something I understand I'll have to do at the next level and I love to do it. ... At the Senior Bowl that was something I took pride in -- make sure I was on kickoff, punt, kick return, everything else just to show that I can compete.
Lucas: He'll be fine at special teams [in the NFL]. Those were more so program decisions on our part. He covered kicks for us, he was on the punt-coverage team. So it's something that he can do, we just made a decision based on his value offensively .... that we would hold him from [special-teams duty]. Not because he didn't want to or could not do it.
Q: What have scouts told you they want to see you improve on?
Armstead: Scouts wanted to see me catch the ball. And like I said, i didn't do it a lot at Temple so I had to make sure I [did that at the Senior Bowl], won my one-on-one reps, caught passes, show them I could block as well. As far as playing running back, I showed I was dynamic, [capable of] hitting the home run. First play of the first practice, I broke off a 50-yard run. All in all, I felt I showed what I needed to show and I have to keep showing that at the combine, the individual drills, and when coaches come to work me out.
Lucas: He's improving [as a blocker]. ... I don't think he fully gives himself credit for as strong as he is. And I think at times, because of that, he doesn't always cut it loose.
Q: What are your goals for the combine next week?
Armstead: I'm hoping to prove that I'm an all-around back. A guy that will come to the program and not disrespect [the organization] in anyway shape or form -- a guy they're going to be able to count out. But as far as the [on-field drills] I want to go in there and hit a 4.45 [40-yard time] at the least, bench press 23-25 reps of 225, show that I can catch the ball and be smooth in my position drills.
Q: When you're not playing defensive end, is there a running back you pattern yourself after?
Armstead: Brandon Jacobs -- he reminded me of everything I was back in the day. He ran violent, he was big, he was fast, could hit the home run, catch the ball -- he could do everything. His passion, his excitement, his violence [when running the ball] was something I [loved watching].
Q: Before we let you go, cornerback Rock Ya-Sin transferred to Temple, had a big 2018 season and earned a Senior Bowl invite. He'll be at the combine too. What was it like to have him as a teammate last season?
Armstead: The things he did at Temple were unheard of. He was actually my roommate -- he was a guy that was strictly about football, he wouldn't let anybody outwork him. I'm talking about me and him going to get an extra two workouts in and we'll be coming from our second workout and he'll see a DB walking to the field and he'll go get his third workout in. He's not going to let anybody outwork him.
I've only seen one corner who I can compare as being as good as him: Tavon Young, from my freshman year and he's playing for the Baltimore Ravens right now. ... Rock is a guy who is going to do everything right, is strictly football and he doesn't really have any weaknesses in his game and he's a true competitor.