Looks Like University Of Illinois - Jafar Armstrong

Jan 31, 2021

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This is a very difficult LLUOI post to write. It's probably the information overload. Usually, when writing these (the majority of LLUOI posts are written about high school recruits), I watch the Hudl film, go look for recruiting articles, scan the player's Twitter timeline, and then assemble some thoughts on what kind of player we landed. For Armstrong, there's just so much out there.

And because of that, I can honestly see myself surging to 4.5 Cruises by the end or dropping to 2 Cruises. I watch one bit of film and think "we don't have an athlete like that anywhere on our roster". I read another article about him falling from 1st to 4th on Notre Dame's RB depth chart over the course of one season and think that he's a bust at RB now trying to make it as a wide receiver. Those things never really work out.

So whenever it gets this scattered, I have to center myself. What are the things we really know? Let's start with that. Here are the data points I find to be the most important:

  1. He was the Notre Dame tailback with the most rushing yards coming into this season. A Notre Dame blog did a player countdown before the season (like my 90 Illini), and they put Jafar Armstrong at #14. He then fell way down the depth chart and was moved back to wide receiver as Kyren Williams (a St. Louis kid who we recruited) quickly became Notre Dame's superstar tailback. Kyren Williams had 26 rushing yards as a freshman in 2019 and then 1,125 in 2020.
  2. When Armstrong put his name in the transfer portal, he put together film (embedded and discussed below). And the film he assembled was wide receiver film. I'm not sure if that was based on the advice of his circle (parents, coaches, etc) or if that was "I'm going to assemble film that shows other Power Five teams that I can be the star Wide Receiver that I was supposed to be coming out of high school", but his choice was to pursue a WR spot somewhere.
  3. Illinois really needs wide receiver depth, so this would appear to be a great fit in that department, but there's not much college WR film to evaluate to see if that will be the case.

If those are my main three points, let's go through them one by one.

The first one is fairly simple. He got to Notre Dame in 2017 and redshirted. He was moved from WR (the position he was recruited for) to RB and his freshman season in 2018 he rushed for 383 yards and 7 touchdowns. His sophomore year, in 2019, he was injured in the opener and missed the next four games. He returned for the final eight games and rushed for only 122 yards.

With those 505 rushing yards, he entered this season with the most yards of any tailback on the roster (which is why those Notre Dame guys said that they chose to put him 14th on their list). Their reasoning was that Armstrong would take over for departed senior Tony Jones, another senior who had 500-some rushing yards his first few years but then a breakout fourth year. That's now how it played out. Redshirt-freshman Kyren Williams was the breakout star for Notre Dame (like, second team All American in The Sporting News breakout star), freshman 5-star Chris Tyree was his backup, and Jafar Armstrong was moved to wide receiver in early November. He caught 3 passes for 38 yards and then put his name in the transfer portal the day after Notre Dame lost to Alabama in the playoff semifinal.

What does that mean? Well, let's keep digging.

When he put up the tweet announcing that he was putting his name in the transfer portal, he said the following:

"I will be entering the transfer portal as a grad transfer wide receiver." I think that's a significant data point. Normally, I think you see transfers who were moved from one position to another after not winning the starting job (Williams and Tyree get all the carries, Armstrong is moved from RB to WR) attempting to get back to the position where they weren't used. Some safety who was moved to cornerback transfers from Texas because they wouldn't let him play safety (or whatever) and wants to find a school who will let him play safety. In this case, Armstrong is very clear about transferring as a "grad transfer wide receiver".

He then backs up that information by putting his own film out on YouTube the same day. You can tell that he assembled this himself because he's often recording (with his phone) the highlight system that all the players have access to where they can watch both practice and game film. So when you see highlights with arrows on the screen, that's where he's pulling those highlights from.

And the highlights he chose were mostly all wide receiver. That and his long runs as a tailback at Notre Dame:

There's some good stuff there. Clearly an athlete. In some of the practice film he straight burns #5, so I had to look him up to see if that's some walkon or something (it's not - #5 is Cam Hart, 3-star DB out of Maryland, listed as a second-stringer on the depth chart). Armstrong gets some real separation on some of those plays. There's this rule to never use "poor man's {really good player}" because no one will ever remember anything besides "compared him to Joe Montana" but the Notre Dame uniform gives me "poor man's Golden Tate" vibes. Shorter guy, looks like he should be a running back, but can gain separation.

That said, Armstrong had 30 catches in three seasons, the vast majority being dump-downs and swing passes out of the backfield, so we don't really know if he has WR skills. Notre Dame recruited him as a WR, brought him to campus, and decided he was a running back, so there's another data point.

Which means I'm kinda already talking about my #3 above - we don't have much evidence that he can be a college wide receiver. We just know that a fair number of P5 teams (including Illinois) recruited him to do just that coming out of high school. And that's where he wants to play. And now he'll get at shot in Champaign for two seasons.

This is where the Covid Rule comes in handy once again. Armstrong got to Notre Dame in 2017, redshirted, and then played in 2018, 2019, and 2020. He'll now graduate from ND after four years but because the 2020 season didn't count, he'll still be a redshirt junior this fall and will have two seasons to play. If we start three WR's (and we might not with fullbacks and tight ends and whatnot), then I think those three wide receivers would be Donny Navarro, Brian Hightower, and Jafar Armstrong. And because of the Covid rule, all three could return in 2021 as well. That's a nice cushion as Bret Bielema and George McDonald try to overhaul their WR roster.

So I think I'm ready to give out some Cruises. Armstrong and Brian Hightower are probably our best two athletes at WR, and both were acquired through transfer. If I had to guess the top 5 wide receivers next season in terms of catches (before we even know the offense), I think I'd go Brian Hightower, Donny Navarro, Jafar Armstrong, James Frenchie, and Patrick Bryant. Yes, I know that Kyron Cumby should probably be on there, but we just don't know what Bielema and Tony Petersen will decide to do with a 5'-7" athlete. Maybe run him with the running backs?

For Armstrong, I think I'll go somewhere around 3 Cruises. But that doesn't feel like quite enough. He's a plus athlete, and we need those. So I'll add 1/4 again.

Jafar Armstrong - Three and one-quarter Tom Cruises.


Brave Illini on January 31, 2021 @ 05:40 PM

One thing I noticed from his film is that he has great cutting ability. Like to think our coaches will find the best position(s) for him and help him develop further. Appreciate all the research you did on him.

reykjavik2020 on January 31, 2021 @ 06:19 PM

If he played WR in high school, did his high school highlights reel show much potential?

Duce20 on January 31, 2021 @ 09:58 PM

He was a 4 star. Heโ€™s a 10.8 100m guy at 6โ€™1โ€ 220 LBs.

UofIx3 on February 1, 2021 @ 01:29 PM

Let's hope he turns out like Josh Reed, a RB turned WR in college.

BriCrozier on February 1, 2021 @ 02:34 PM

I think Armstrong can be a good wide receiver for Illinois. There's even the possibility that our offensive coaches could utilize him a little bit like the 49ers have used receivers such as Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk, in that Armstrong could be used for a designed run or two every so often. Samuel had 7 runs this season, while Aiyuk had 6. It wouldn't necessarily have to be a major part of the game plan, rather just something that keeps opposing coaches guessing a little bit.

IBFan on February 1, 2021 @ 07:18 PM

Recruited to ND as a wide receiver....4star. Gets to ND and there are better, more experienced WRs ready to go BUT this guy is such a great athlete they move him to RB. Get your best athletes on the field situation. Then the rest. Btw-Players will tell you that the little swing pass isnโ€™t all that easy. A little floater on a LB key and you might end up in the ICU. Hope we got a good one!

Efremwinters84 on February 2, 2021 @ 06:02 PM

"......and because of the Covid rule, all three could return in 2021 as well...."

I believe you meant to say that all 3 potential starting WR's can return in 2022, if they so choose. Would love to get Jafar for two seasons!

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