After the Pittsburgh Steelers selected speedster Dri Archer in the third round of the draft, some questions were immediately raised about how he would be used. Given his size, there were naturally concerns about what role he could serve on offense while still protecting him from unnecessary injury.
But there were also questions about what he would be able to contribute on special teams. While in college, he excelled as a kick returner, particularly during his final two seasons.
Between 2012 and 2013, he averaged nearly 40 yards per return—when opposing teams actually allowed him to field the ball—and returned four of them for touchdowns.
He saw far less action as a punt returner during college, however, raising concerns over whether or not he could do it consistently at the NFL level. He returned just six punts during his college career for a total of eight yards.
The questions surrounding his punt return ability, however, are beginning to be answered already, just a short time following the draft.
As Dave Bryan highlighted recently, his head coach at Kent State recently divulged that the team had planned to use him as the team’s punt returner this past season, before he suffered an ankle injury that lingered throughout the course of the season.
As a result of the injury, the team altered their plans for Archer that season, allowing others to field punts (though he still returned kicks) while also playing him more as a receiver on offense than at running back, though the latter was also designed to show NFL teams his skill set.
Compare his usage from 2012 to 2013. In 2012, he rushed the ball 159 times. Last season, he carried the ball just 68 times. He played in four less games, but that still doesn’t account for the discrepancy.
His work at receiver, in comparison, was diluted to a far less significant degree, where his receptions dropped from 39 to 25.
While his injury prevented him the opportunity to show NFL teams what he can do on a full-time basis as a punt returner, however, he is now getting the opportunity to show that to the one NFL that matters, which is the one that drafted him.
As Ed Bouchette wrote on Saturday for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Archer said that he’s been “working at both” kick returns and punt returns, and said that he is “comfortable at both”.
Mark Kaboly of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review also Tweeted on Saturday that we shouldn’t be worried about Archer’s ability to field punts because the “kid catches everything”.
Lastly, Jim Wexell of Steel City Insider also touched on his observations of Archer in his notes from the team’s rookie minicamp, relaying that he showed good hands shagging punts.
Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert is on record as recognizing returner as a starting position on special teams. Archer already comes in with a strong reputation as a kick returner, but with punt returns added to his known repertoire, we may be looking at a high-quality starter in the late third round with Archer, which will also save others, such as Antonio Brown, from being called upon to fill that role.