Ryquell Armstead wore Temple gear while grunting through a training session in a gym tucked in a Cherry Hill office park two weeks before the NFL draft. That is his attire while he waits to learn his employer, a time that could cause angst among even the most stoic prospects.
Armstead disagreed with the notion that there should be any anxiety right now. Yes, his family back in Millville, South Jersey, might wonder – they’d like him nearby, and Armstead’s 3-year-old daughter wants to see their new home – but Armstead is sweating the squats more than the uncertainty.
He’s played football since he was 6. He rushed for 2,812 yards and 34 touchdowns during four years at Temple. He shined at the Senior Bowl in January against major-conference competition, then ran a 4.45-second 40-yard dash at the combine. So, the 5-foot-10, 220-pound back has boosted his stock throughout the predraft process, and he’ll finally find out how much it matters next week.
“The combine, the all-star game, getting drafted potentially, watching the draft that you’re a player in, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” Armstead said after a recent workout at Adrenaline Sports Performance. “Why would you shy away from that? I worked this hard to get here. Why not enjoy it?”
Armstead is one of the top local prospects in the draft and continues a recent Philly-area-to-NFL pipeline for running backs. From Wendell Smallwood in 2016 and Corey Clement in 2017 to Josh Adams in 2018, the Eagles have added three rookie running backs in three years who grew up within an hour’s drive of the team’s complex. Armstead could be next.
Two of those area running backs went undrafted, but Armstead is expected to be a mid-round pick.
“He’s a tough, hard-nosed runner, instinctive kid,” an NFL executive said.
Armstead met Monday with the Eagles, who are expected to add a running back. As any player would say at this stage in the process, he would be happy wherever he plays, “whether it’s the Eagles or anyone across the map,” although he did admit that his mother would like him nearby so his daughter doesn’t move far.
This is not a top-heavy running-back class – there’s expected to be, at most, one running back taken in the first round – but it’s considered a deep group, without a consensus for how they’ll go off the board.
Armstead lacks the name appeal of running backs who played on national television each week. He has helped himself in recent months. When he met with teams before the combine, scouts wondered about his speed at his size. He responded with the second-fastest 40-yard dash of the 22 running backs who sprinted that day, and he was one of 10 running backs to reach 220 pounds on the scale. Armstead acknowledged he “woke some teams up,” but he’s never doubted his standing in this draft class.
While Armstead is proud of his combine performance, he’s quick to point out that he’s not a workout wonder. Watch the film: His six touchdowns against Houston last season, the 75-yard rush against Boston College, the 76-yard score against South Florida as a sophomore, 4.9 yards per carry throughout his career. How about the sack he recorded against Tulsa when he played on both sides of the ball?
“The combine and all that is great, but at the same time, we’re here to play football,” Armstead said. “That’s the game. You’ve got to have numbers.”
He’s been expecting to play in the NFL ever since he committed to Temple as a junior at Millville High. His 14 touchdowns as a sophomore with the Owls only emboldened the confidence. But what does not stand out on tape is how Armstead can help in the passing game. At the Senior Bowl, he wanted to show that he can catch and block. It’s been an area of emphasis when teams evaluate him. He doesn’t want to be a specialist, but someone who craves contact, can “hit a home run,” and will help on third downs.
Ultimately, NFL teams will make that determination. He’s hoping they see him as a mature player who’s done everything to build a life for his daughter. He credits his family, the mother of his daughter, and his daughter for allowing him to develop perspective, for putting him in a position to spend four years at Temple, earn a degree, and reach the doorstep of the NFL. He doesn’t live a life typical of a 22-year-old. Having a daughter at 18 will do that.
“I say I’m 22 living in a 38-year-old’s body,” Armstead said. "I don’t party. I don’t go out. I’m a homebody. She’s taught me a lot patience.”
He spent part of his time at Temple working at Chickie’s and Pete’s. He’s at the gym 30 minutes before every workout. There are jerseys of local NFL players on the walls of Chad Hallett’s Cherry Hill facility, and Hallett sees why Armstead might join them.
“He’s just professional,” Hallett said. “Those are the ones who come in, do real well, have long careers.”
The one variable Armstead can’t control is where he’ll go and what round he’ll get drafted. His daughter wants to know where they’re going to live, and Armstead can only wait. But he at least knows why he’s in this position.
“I have a ‘why’,” Armstead. “A lot of people in college don’t have whys. Some guys are freshmen and sophomores and trying to figure out why they’re playing this game. Do they actually love it? I’m working for a bigger goal. That’s to make sure my daughter … doesn’t have to worry about anything in life. I have a life to take care of.”
Local players in the draft
Nasir Adderley, DB, Delaware (Great Valley), projected round: 1-2
A versatile safety who can play multiple spots in the secondary, Adderley starred at Delaware and fits the evolving style of NFL defenses. His grandfather’s cousin is NFL Hall of Famer Herb Adderley.
Rock Ya-Sin, CB, Temple, projected round: 1-2
After transferring from Presbyterian for his senior year, the former high school wrestler burst onto the scene for the Owls last season and will be one of the top cornerbacks selected next week.
Miles Sanders, RB, Penn State, projected round: 2
Sanders replaced Saquon Barkley at Penn State and rushed for 1,278 yards in his one season as the starter. His stock continues to rise and he’s a potential target for the Eagles in the second round.
Kelvin Harmon, WR, North Carolina State (Palmyra), projected round: 2-3
At 6-2 and 221 pounds, what Harmon lacks in speed he makes up for with size and physicality. He’s one of the top big-bodied receivers in the draft.
Connor McGovern, OL, Penn State, projected round: 3-4
McGovern started at guard and center during his three years at Penn State, and his frame (6-5, 308) and versatility are appealing to NFL teams.
Amani Oruwariye, CB, Penn State
Ka’Dar Hollmon, CB, Toledo (Burlington Township)
Shareef Miller, DE, Penn State (George Washington)
Ryan Bates, OL, Penn State (Archbishop Wood)
Kevin Givens, DL, Penn State
Brandon Hitner, OL, Villanova (Garnet Valley)
Michael Dogbe, DE, Temple
Delvon Randall, S, Temple
Trace McSorley, QB, Penn State
Kyle Shurmur, QB, Vanderbilt (La Salle)
Jamal Custis, WR Syracuse (Neumann-Goretti)
Olamide Zaccheaus, WR, Virginia (St. Joseph’s Prep)
Nick Scott, S, Penn State
Ethan Greenidge, OL, Villanova
Wes Hills, RB, Slippery Rock (Wildwood)