The deadline for underclassmen college football players to declare for the NFL Draft is January 17th. Multiple Virginia football players have submitted declaration papers for the 2022 NFL Draft, including Jelani Woods, Devin Darrington, Joey Blount, and Nick Grant.
But, there is one name whose decision the entire UVA fan base is waiting with great anticipation to hear about.
The Virginia quarterback is coming off of an extraordinary 2021 season that saw him rewrite the UVA record books. A professional career as a quarterback in the NFL is certainly a possibility for Armstrong, but the only question is whether he will pursue that dream this spring or wait until next year after another season of college football in Charlottesville.
On the day that Tony Elliott was formally introduced as Virginia’s next head football coach, Armstrong said that he would not join the mass exodus of Cavaliers who hit the transfer portal following the announcement of Bronco Mendenhall’s resignation.
“I don’t think I’m ever transferring,” Armstrong said on December 13th. “I’m not going to transfer. It’s either here or the NFL. Me and Coach Elliott will sit down and talk about a bunch of stuff and figure things out and then make my decision off that.”
Like many of the UVA players facing similar choices regarding their football futures, Armstrong indicated that he would wait until after Virginia’s bowl game to make his decision. When the Fenway Bowl was canceled due to COVID-19 issues in the UVA football program, suddenly Armstrong’s final opportunity of the season to add some quality film to his draft tape disappeared, as did the arbitrary deadline for his decision.
With the official deadline for underclassmen entrants into the 2022 NFL Draft right around the corner, Armstrong’s decision on declaring for the draft or returning to Virginia is expected any day now.
With that in mind, here is a breakdown of some of the most important considerations impacting Armstrong’s decision to stay at UVA or move on to the NFL this spring.
The main factor driving Armstrong’s decision will be the evaluation he received from the NFL. Shortly following the conclusion of the regular season, Armstrong submitted a request to the NFL to receive an evaluation on his draft stock. In that process, the NFL responds a couple of weeks later with a letter that indicates whether Armstrong is likely to be selected in the first or second round of this year’s NFL Draft or if the NFL thinks he should return to college for another year of development before declaring for the draft.
When Armstrong last spoke with the media in the week leading up to the Fenway Bowl, he said he had not received his feedback from the NFL yet, but was expecting it imminently. By now, it is likely that Armstrong has had his evaluation for more than two weeks.
If the NFL concluded that Armstrong would be a first or second round draft selection, then it will be difficult for Armstrong to turn down that opportunity. Being a first or second round draft pick means a very lucrative rookie NFL contract and also means that it is likely that Armstrong will have a larger role for the team that drafted him, since the organization selected him with one of its top picks.
We can only speculate what the NFL letter says about Armstrong, but the Virginia quarterback has not been included in many of the mock draft boards. Quarterbacks like Kenny Pickett, Matt Corral, Desmond Ridder, and Sam Howell will likely be the top quarterbacks selected in the 2022 NFL Draft.
When Bronco Mendenhall was asked about Armstrong’s NFL draft stock while the team was still preparing for the Fenway Bowl, the now former UVA head coach said he had not even asked Armstrong if he had received the evaluation.
Here is what Mendenhall had to say about Armstrong's NFL evaluation:
“I know what it’s going to say and we’ve talked openly about that. So, I didn’t need the confirmation because, in my own mind, I already know. So I’ll be shocked if it’s anything different. The trust is at such a high level and the number of player personnel people that I know and general managers - the letter will basically say, with no more, come or go. There isn’t this whole evaluative thing - I’ve already got all that from the people I’ve talked to.”
“The letter will say- recommend for him to come back to school and continue to break every passing record and winning record in the galaxy and then go on and win Super Bowls and be in the Pro Bowl and everything else you’re going to do after one more year of college. That’s what I think it will say.”
“And if he did go, he’ll still have amazing success.”
Education & Eligibility
The COVID-19 pandemic has generated a great deal of confusion with regards to the eligibility status of college athletes. As it stands, all NCAA student athletes have been granted an extra year of eligibility. That, combined with redshirt seasons, have created cases of sixth or even seventh-year “super seniors”, especially in sports like football where multiple redshirt years are very common.
In the case of Brennan Armstrong, the UVA quarterback just finished his junior season from an athletic eligibility standpoint. Many Virginia fans will naturally want to know Armstrong’s academic status in terms of earning a degree from the University of Virginia. Those fans will be happy to learn that Armstrong was one of 13 Virginia football players to graduate from UVA this past December. Armstrong was an early enrollee at Virginia in January 2018 and earned a degree in American Studies in December 2021.
Armstrong redshirted the fall 2018 season due to only appearing in four games that season. Armstrong then appeared in seven games in 2019, before becoming Virginia’s full-time starter at quarterback for the 2020 and 2021 seasons. When you factor in the COVID-19 eligibility rules, Armstrong could stay at Virginia for as many as two more seasons. It is highly unlikely that Armstrong will still be playing college football in 2023, but Armstrong certainly has plenty of options in front of him, having already earned his degree even with two years of eligibility remaining.
Coaching Staff Changes
It has been well-documented that Brennan Armstrong and Bronco Mendenhall had a tremendous and very-close relationship during Mendenhall’s time at UVA. Armstrong was certainly eager to send Mendenhall off with a victory in the Fenway Bowl before it was canceled. Additionally, Armstrong expressed his gratitude to quarterbacks coach Jason Beck, who has joined Dino Babers’ coaching staff at Syracuse.
The departures of Mendenhall and Beck remove two very strong ties Armstrong had to the UVA football program, but Armstrong’s first reactions to Tony Elliott’s hiring as Virginia’s next head coach have been quite positive.
“He has the résumé, he’s been to the best of the best games and had some of the best players,” Armstrong said of Elliott. “I’m glad I can most likely be coached by him and build off that. Carla [Williams] did well - got someone in here that fits us and fits this program well. He has the experience to take this place to the next step. We went from 9-3 to COVID year to 6-6. It’s just waiting to go to that next step and I just think that he has the experience and he knows what it looks like. I am excited to see how it goes.”
In the past couple of weeks, Elliott has made several decisions regarding the makeup of his coaching staff, which should help to smooth over some of the uncertainty lingering over the program. Wide receivers coach Marques Hagans, defensive line coach Clint Sintim, and offensive line coach Garett Tujague have been retained from Mendenhall’s staff. Elliott also hired Atlanta Falcons running backs coach Des Kitchings as offensive coordinator and Air Force defensive coordinator John Rudzinski as defensive coordinator. Additionally, Elliott brought on Navy defensive ends coach Kevin Downing, Army wide receivers coach Keith Gaither, and former UVA football star linebacker Chris Slade to his new UVA football coaching staff.
Even with all of these hires, there is still much to be determined in terms of who will fill specific roles on the Virginia coaching staff in Elliott’s first year. Most notably, Elliott has yet to name a quarterbacks coach. It is possible that Armstrong is still waiting to hear who will be his primary position coach before making a decision about coming back for another season of college football.
Despite Brennan Armstrong’s record-breaking year, the Cavaliers turned in a mediocre 6-6 record and ended the regular season on a four-game losing streak. After Mendenhall announced his resignation, several Virginia football players entered the transfer portal. As of January 13th, eight UVA football players have transferred to other programs, two players who initially entered the portal have decided to return to Virginia, and 12 Cavaliers remain in the transfer portal.
When Armstrong was asked about his teammates entering the transfer portal, Armstrong said he was doing his best to convince them to come back to UVA. “Just ask them if they want to play with me one more year,” Armstrong said. He later added that having more of his teammates withdraw from the transfer portal would make his decision to potentially declare for the NFL draft more difficult.
With so many players leaving the program, it is not as if Brennan Armstrong would be deciding to come back for another year to “run it back” with the same roster next fall. Four of the eight players who transferred to other schools were offensive linemen and the Virginia offense will also be without tight end Jelani Woods (NFL Draft) and some other key pieces who are graduating.
Still, Armstrong’s favorite target this season, Dontayvion Wicks, who broke the UVA single-season receiving record with 1,203 receiving yards, will be back next season. As will one of Armstrong’s top targets from 2020, Lavel Davis Jr., who missed the 2021 season with an ACL injury after a remarkable season as a true freshman in 2020. If Armstrong returns for another year, Virginia’s passing offense could be even better in 2022.
Raising or Lowering Draft Stock
A main consideration for Brennan Armstrong is whether returning to college for another season will help his draft stock or not. Armstrong put together an astonishing body of work from the quarterback position in 2021, but his accomplishments were left largely unrecognized due to the overall mediocrity of his team in terms of wins and losses.
Armstrong could return to UVA for another season and, as Bronco Mendenhall said, “continue to break every passing record in the galaxy”, but if doing so will not also yield national recognition as a top quarterback in college football, it may not be worth the risk of suffering a serious injury by playing another season in college before moving on to the NFL. If he puts up ridiculous numbers again, but is buried down on the lists for national awards like the Heisman Trophy by players on more successful teams, Armstrong’s draft stock is not likely to improve.
Leaving a Legacy
Brennan Armstrong broke several UVA quarterback records this season. If you ask him, though, Armstrong would not hesitate to tell you that the records are meaningless to him compared to the value of winning games.
When Armstrong took over as Virginia’s starting quarterback after the departure of Bryce Perkins, he said he wanted to beat Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, something that the Cavaliers have not accomplished since 1998. UVA ended the 2020 season with a 5-5 record, capped off by a disappointing 33-15 loss to the Hokies at Lane Stadium. This season, Armstrong and the Hoos lost to the Hokies again, 29-24, and watched as Virginia Tech fans stormed the field at Scott Stadium to celebrate their 17th victory in the last 18 games of the Commonwealth Clash.
Armstrong probably wants another chance to beat Tech, especially if he can do it at Lane Stadium in 2022. Taking another shot at beating the Hokies and reclaiming the Commonwealth Cup might just be enough for Armstrong to return to Grounds for one last ride.
Ultimately, Brennan Armstrong will take all of these factors into account and decide what is best for him and genuine UVA fans will gladly support him wherever his football future takes him.