Could Steelers RB Dri Archer Be the NFL's Most Exciting Rookie in 2014?

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Could Steelers RB Dri Archer Be the NFL's Most Exciting Rookie in 2014?
J.D. POOLEY/Associated Press

Among the players the Pittsburgh Steelers selected in the 2014 NFL draft was Kent State running back Dri Archer, who brought home the title of "fastest man in Indy" at February's combine.

Archer has the blazing speed and dazzling quickness to be one of the most electrifying first-year players in the league in 2014.

That is, if the Steelers can figure out how to use the little package all that speed and quickness is crammed into.

That wasn't a problem at Kent State, especially in 2012.

Dri Archer Career Stats
Year Att. Yds. Avg. TD Rec. Yds. TD
2012 159 1429 9.0 16 39 561 4
2013 68 527 7.8 6 25 327 4

Per CFBStats

As a junior, Archer topped 1,400 yards on the ground, averaging a staggering nine yards a carry. Archer chipped in over 500 more yards on receptions, and added 591 more on kickoff returns. His 23 touchdowns (16 rushing, four receiving, three on returns) set a school record.

An ankle injury hampered Archer for much of the 2013 season, but even after that down year many scouts remained enamored with Archer's jaw-dropping ability to make people miss.

As Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk reports, former NFL safety Corey Chavous, who now runs the scouting site DraftNasty.com, described Archer as "even more naturally explosive and elusive than (St. Louis Rams wide receiver) Tavon Austin.”

Nolan Nawrocki of NFL.com wrote that, "An injury-riddled senior season cannot eclipse what an explosive playmaker Archer demonstrated he can be when healthy."

In any event, once the combine rolled around Archer reminded them anyway. 

Dri Archer 2013 Combine
40-Yard Bench Vert. Broad 3-Cone 20-Yard
4.26* 20 38"* 122" 6.86* 4.06*

* Top Performer per NFL.com

Archer was among the top performers at the combine at his position in a number of drills, but it was the "dash for cash" where he really sent a message.

Since the combine went to electronic timing, Chris Johnson of the New York Jets is the only running back to post a faster 40-yard dash time at the combine than Archer.

As Nawrocki points out, that wasn't all. Archer was timed at 4.18 seconds on one of the combine's "official" handheld timers, and his 16 steps to cover 40 yards tied Calvin Johnson's combine record.

So what's the problem? A running back with those wheels? In the third round? That's the steal of the draft!

How many rushing + receiving yards will Dri Archer gain as a rookie?

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Well, there's something of an elephant in the room.

A teeny-tiny elephant.

At 5'8" and only 173 pounds, Archer was one of the smallest players in this year's draft class. Rob Rang of CBS Sports suggests that Archer "may even be smaller than listed," and "possesses narrow hips and thin thighs that suggest his best chance at success in the NFL is on the perimeter."

It begs the question of how the Steelers can best avail themselves of that impressive speed and quickness without getting Archer killed.

Obviously we're not going to see Archer banging away between the tackles. He's giving up 20 pounds to middling cornerbacks. At 346 pounds, Kansas City Chiefs defensive tackle Dontari Poe is exactly twice Archer's size.

A third-down role could also be problematic, in that Nawrocki states Archer is a "very marginal, underpowered blocker."

Rang suggests a "jack of all trades" role similar to how the Kansas City Chiefs use Dexter McCluster, who Rang views as a similar player:

The 5-08, 170-pound McCluster has served as a moveable chess piece for the Chiefs since entering the NFL in 2010, providing big play ability at running back, receiver and returner. The team that gives Archer his chance will be hoping for similar versatility and durability.

And that will be the challenge. Getting Archer the ball in situations that maximize his chances both at success and staying on the field.

Think bubble screens and jet sweeps, quick routes that get Archer the ball in space.

Probably best to skip the draws and runs off the guard's shoulder.

Then there's the matter of the return game.

It's there where Archer will probably get his first chance to make a dent. The Steelers lost kickoff return man LaRod Stephens-Howling in the season opener last year, and the end result was a return game that ranked 21st in the NFL.

Archer will all but certainly claim those duties right away, and you can bet that Todd Haley has already hit the film room trying to figure out ways to get Archer touches in the open field.

Granted, there probably won't be enough of those touches for Archer to challenge for the rookie of the year award. Still, if you're talking bang for your buck, sizzle for his size...

If the Steelers can figure out how to use him, every one of those touches with Dri Archer could be an adventure in 2014.

 

Gary Davenport is an NFL Analyst at Bleacher Report and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association and the Pro Football Writers of America. You can follow Gary on Twitter @IDPManor.

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