Quality Kick Returner Still A Valuable Commodity

There’s no doubt that the Pittsburgh Steelers’ selection of Dri Archer in the third round has been somewhat polarizing since they took him in the third round of the NFL Draft this past Friday, given his slight stature.

Many arguments have been made against using such a premium draft pick on a player that many assume will play a limited role in the offense. He is a player that will not start, and for whom you will have to manufacture touches.

Some of the hypotheticals presented have merit to them, and express legitimate reasons for hesitation in taking a player such as Archer with a draft pick in the top half of the draft, when players of a similar skill set can be found later.

One of the arguments that doesn’t meet that criteria is some variation on the following form: kickoffs were made irrelevant when the league moved the ball up to the 35.

That has been the argument for three years now, but while it certainly has cut down the number of returned kickoffs, it’s simply not true, and to diminish the value of a quality kick returner is short-sighted.

A good number of kickers still see half or more of their kickoffs returned. Not everybody gets to be Matt Prater in Denver, after all.

Shaun Suisham, for example, had 64 percent of his kickoffs returned last season, which translated to an average starting field position of 23.1 yards. He recorded 24 touchbacks on 86 kickoffs.

Last season, the Steelers returned 43 kickoffs, which is approaching three kickoffs per game. That could be two to three touches per game in Archer’s hands. 22 of those touches were in Felix Jones’ hands last year, and he averaged just 22.4 yards per return.

Want to understand the value of a quality kick returner? Cordarrelle Patterson for the Minnesota Vikings returned 43 kicks a year ago, the same number of returns by the Steelers for the season. He recorded 1393 return yards, averaging 32.4 yards per return, and scored two touchdowns.

Archer returned four kickoffs for touchdowns in college on 51 returns, averaging 28.2 for his career. Over his last two seasons alone, however, he returned only 18 kickoffs for 719 yards, which comes out to about 40 yards per attempt, as well as all four of his return touchdowns.

If you can give somebody with the skill set and sheer speed that Archer possesses 40 to 50 touches per season returning kicks, you’re probably going to find success. In 2012, Chris Rainey averaged 26.5 yards per return on 39 returns.

Archer has the potential to be a Pro Bowl returner, and just as significantly, it keeps starters from being asked to return.

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.
  • Aharon Moyer

    Steelers Depot is a valuable commodity. And I guess kick returners too…

  • Brian Tollini

    He best learn to hold on to the ball because you can’t run a 4.2 40 on the bench. I have faith.

  • shawn

    The season where he was healthy and did most of his damage with 23TDs … on over 200+ touches he had a whopping 2 Fumbles … i think we can safely put that worry to bed !

  • John C

    Thanks for this….I had questions regarding the kick return #’s….looks like there will be plenty of opportunity for Dri Archer to make an impact.

  • dgh57

    A quality KR is what we’ve been waiting for and they say Special Teams is one third of the the game so hopefully he lives up to his third round billing. Good field position by your STs unit always comes in handy when all else isn’t going so good.

  • ergomesh

    wonder why we haven’t signed a rookie punter either we picked up a garbage punter from chicago and the current guy sucks hairy balls.

  • steeltown

    Wing and Podlesh… youth and experience

  • steeltown

    That last point is significant, we wont have to have A.Brown, Wheaton or Blount returning kicks, which should keep them fresh

    I read a quote of him saying that he’s been working on kick returns after last year simply because he didn’t do much of it this last season. That’s good to hear.

  • Yuriy

    Do you think he will be able to step in as a PR as well? That would really be a great value IF he can do that.

  • AndyR34

    True…but also lots of poor punting or actions in their history.

  • steeltown

    Yea but they both bring something different, Wing has a huge leg while Podlesh is more of a technician. I think one of these guys will stand out.Wing for example hasn’t really been given a chance in the pros after the Eagles signed him undrafted last year, but he has ability.

  • Jacque Strappe

    I’m just thankful we don’t have to watch Felix Jones catch another kickoff, run in a straight line until he reaches he first wave of defenders and get tripped up at the 20.

  • shawn

    im not sure .. he really never did it much, that will be a very interesting question … it would definitely be a huge benefit if he could, but i wouldnt count on it.

  • Matthew Marczi

    I’m sure they’ll give him every opportunity to take that job. Doesn’t mean he will, but I’m betting they hope he does.