The Pittsburgh Steelers used their third-round selection in the 2014 NFL draft on an intriguing prospect, Kent State receiver and running back Dri Archer. Archer was the fastest participant at the scouting combine, running a 4.16-second 40-yard dash.
That speed is one thing that likely made Archer stand out to the Steelers, but it's not the only thing. His versatility is also an asset. And he's a perfect addition to Todd Haley's offense—a puzzle piece Haley has been looking for since taking over the offensive coordinator job in 2012.
Archer compares to Dexter McCluster, whom Haley coached with the Kansas City Chiefs. He's small, versatile and fast and added another dimension to Kansas City's offense (and should do the same with his new team, the Tennessee Titans).
The Steelers did try to get Haley a McCluster-type player in 2012, drafting Florida's Chris Rainey in Round 5. However, Rainey lasted just one season, catching 14 passes and rushing 26 times before being released after assault allegations. The Steelers went through the 2013 season without a player who met this hybrid profile but opted to address it again in 2014.
Archer had 325 career rushes for Kent State, netting him 2,342 yards and 24 touchdowns. He also caught 99 passes for 1,194 yards and 12 scores and returned 51 kicks for 1,436 yards and four touchdowns. He had a 7.2 yards-per-carry average and 12.1 yards per reception—not bad for a 5'7" football player.
Because of his size, Archer cannot be on the field on every down. He won't be a prolific blocker. However, when he does take the field, his versatility makes him dangerous. He's going to be a nightmare to tackle with his speed and lateral athleticism; even being small helps him stay on his feet, allowing him to slip under would-be tacklers.
|Dri Archer's Collegiate Stats|
|Year||Atts.||Yds.||YPA||TDs||Rec.||Yds.||YPC||TDs||KR Yds||KR TDs|
|via Sports-Reference.com; Archer redshirted in 2011|
Archer will complement Le'Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount in the run game, adding a speed dimension to the position. He'll also be a slot-receiving option alongside Lance Moore and should be a good third-down weapon in the passing game. And he is ready-made for returning kicks and punts, which is good news, as Felix Jones and Emmanuel Sanders are both gone and Antonio Brown needs to be reserved as a receiver only.
Where Archer differs from Rainey and compares favorably with McCluster is that, in the words of head coach Mike Tomlin, "He is not small. He is short." Archer weighs in at 173 pounds. He possesses deceptive strength, completing 20 reps at the 225-pound bench press at the combine. That means he can get a bit more playing time than Rainey before him—he has immensely higher upside and more talent.
However, Archer's versatility might also create an issue of where and when the Steelers may use him. Ultimately, he may make the biggest impact as a returner, especially in his first season. That would make him a starter, though—Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said of Archer, "In my mind return guys are starters," and "His kick return ability is unique. It really is special." The importance of field-position advantage cannot be understated, and Archer can certainly provide it.
Still, the Steelers are aware of how Archer can help out their offense even if his snaps are limited compared to the other receivers and backs on the roster. Tomlin seems to want him on the field. "Is he a running back? Is he a wideout? Regardless of position I think he’s a playmaker. He's a guy that gets yards in chunks and rings up the scoreboard," said the coach.
Archer is explosive and exciting, and he's always a threat to score. For those reasons, the Steelers will be making room for him on offense, beyond simply returning kicks and punts. Though his touches may be limited, simply because of the running back and wideout talent around him in Pittsburgh, defenses will have to prepare for him getting his hands on the football at any time.
He's certainly better for the Steelers than Rainey and could ultimately prove to be a better weapon than McCluster as well. With his many tools and Haley's history of wanting players who can do it all on offense, Archer should be an impact player for the Steelers from the first time he touches the football.
It's not about how many snaps he plays—it's about what he can do with those snaps that made him attractive to the Steelers.