After the Pittsburgh Steelers dedicated their first two selections in the 2014 NFL draft to upgrading the front seven, many presumed a cornerback or big wide receiver would be the logical target in Round 3. Apparently, the Steelers themselves, though, didn’t follow that line of thinking.
If they had, it’s highly unlikely that Kent State’s Dri Archer would’ve even been in the conversation for pick No. 97. After all, nobody’s getting the 5’8”, 173-pounder confused with Calvin Johnson.
In spite of Archer’s diminutive stature, he was among college football’s most lethal playmakers during his time as a Golden Flash. He was more of a role player in his first few seasons but really took off in 2012.
Archer ran for an absurd 1,429 yards and 16 scores on just 159 carries, averaging nine yards per tote. As if that weren’t enough, he compiled another 561 yards through the air. To top it all off, he was dynamite as a returner with three kick-return scores.
Archer’s senior season saw him suffer an early ankle injury, and as a result, he missed parts of the season’s first four games. In fact, Archer didn’t see more than 10 touches in a game until Kent State’s eighth contest of the season. He still finished the year strong with 603 yards from scrimmage in his final five games.
What really caught everyone’s eyes, though, was Archer’s phenomenal combine showing, via NFL.com. He ran a blistering 4.26-second 40-yard dash. He also posted top marks in the vertical jump, three-cone drill and 20-yard shuttle. Even his 20 bench press reps of 225 pounds were mighty impressive for a man giving up 50 pounds to the weight on the bar.
So, Archer’s got the production and the measurables to suggest he could make an impact as soon as his rookie season. However, the question is from where will that impact be made?
Most of the running back touches will be shared between Steelers 2013 Rookie of the Year Le’Veon Bell and free-agent signee LeGarrette Blount. Bell saw the majority of the touches upon returning from injury last season, so it remains to be seen how well the team will be able to integrate a two- or even three-back system.
One thing working in Archer’s favor is versatility. He saw 20 starts at slot receiver over his last two seasons and managed 888 receiving yards in that same time frame. Unfortunately for Archer, another free-agent pickup in Lance Moore is a proven slot receiver and figures to be the odds-on favorite to win that job in camp.
So, we’ve uncovered that Archer can impact the game in a multitude of ways. But at the same time, it’s unlikely he’ll be asked to very often in his rookie season—at least on the most glamorous side of the ball. Archer can still see regular touches and even the end zone a time or two in his first season.
As mentioned previously, he was a big-time special teams contributor at Kent State. He returned just 18 kicks over his last two seasons but managed to finish four of them in the end zone.
As of now, there’s no odds-on favorite to be the Steelers’ primary returner. Both Antonio Brown and Blount have experience, but each figures to have a prominent role in the team’s offense. Archer can help preserve those two key contributors’ legs and may also be the most dangerous option with his blinding straight-line speed.
Archer’s best bet to see the field regularly may be on special teams, but a player of his capabilities will almost certainly have some plays drawn up for him. Even with three to five touches a game he’ll be a weapon teams will have to account for. He’s just as likely to manage 10 yards from scrimmage in a game as he is 100, and the Steelers were clearly willing to take that risk.