The Cowboys' 2018 draft class has been a very successful one thus far. But while five guys from it already have made names for themselves, Defensive End Dorance Armstrong hasn't been as noteworthy. However, now entering a contract year, Armstrong has been a 2021 camp standout and was arguably the top performer in the last preseason game.
Leighton Vander Esch, Connor Williams, Michael Gallup, Dalton Schultz, Cedrick Wilson; all of these are either starters or key roleplayers after three seasons. While Armstrong has been consistently healthy and active for all but two games since joining the Cowboys, he just hasn't had the snaps or the standout moments to be thought of with his 2018 classmates.
Opportunity is a huge factor in this. While most of those players were ether immediately thrust into big roles or had to step up due to injuries, Armstrong has stayed buried under DeMarcus Lawrence, Randy Gregory, Tyrone Crawford, Robert Quinn, Aldon Smith, Taco Charlton, and others.
Coming into 2021, Lawrence and Gregory were the only veteran defensive ends on the roster with clear status above Dorance. With Tank having spent most of camp on the PUP list, Armstrong has had much more opportunity to work against the better offensive linemen and get attention.
So far, the fourth-year pass rusher appears to be making the most of it. And with his big night on Friday against the Cardinals, Armstrong's push is now getting much more attention.
What you're seeing from Dorance Armstrong tonight, we've seen pretty consistently in practice too.
— Rob Phillips (@robphillips3) August 14, 2021
Entering a contract year, there was some talk before camp that his roster spot was up for grabs. That ain't happening.
— David Helman (@davidhelman_) August 14, 2021
Dorance Armstrong again. That's two sacks — one per quarter.
— Patrik [No C] Walker (@VoiceOfTheStar) August 14, 2021
Dorance Armstrong made four impact plays alone in the first half versus Arizona.
It's easily the best performance I've seen from him.
— Marcus Mosher (@Marcus_Mosher) August 16, 2021
Indeed, Armstrong was a stud that night with two sacks and a near interception off his own tipped pass. And with both Lawrence and Gregory out, these plays were coming early in the game and against starting offensive lineman for Arizona.
While the Cowboys expect to have both Tank and Randy fully ready to go for Week One and beyond, we know that depth is critical at defensive end. This is especially true with two starters who have had availability concerns in the past.
Armstrong is now the clear front-runner for being the primary backup. Tarell Basham and third-round rookie Chauncey Golston are both hurt and missing camp and preseason, leaving prospects like Bradlee Anae and Ron'Dell Carter as Dorance's only competition.
But clearly, he isn't just claiming this job by default. It sounds like Armstrong's performance would have him leading the pack regardless.
As a fourth-year player finishing out his rookie deal, Dorance had little job security from a contractual standpoint. Dallas could get back a little under $1 million cap space by releasing him with almost no dead money.
That might have been an issue for Armstrong had he remained in the shadows this summer. But now he's emerging as a valuable rotation piece and perhaps someone Dallas will make an effort to get on the field.
Whatever his motivation, Dorance Armstrong is showing up at the right time. We can only hope that he keeps making this kind of noise when the games start counting.