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Scat Back 3.0 – How Will Dri Archer Succeed Where Others Had Failed?

I think it’s safe to call it now. Todd Haley likes himself some scat backs. The Pittsburgh Steelers used their third-round compensatory pick to select former Kent State RB/WR/KR Dri Archer, a 5’8”, 170 lbs. bullet with 4.2 speed.

Initial opinions on Archer seem to be split down a divide based primarily on whether or not you like the idea of a scat back. Those who don’t will tend to claim that Archer was a major reach, while those who are open to it argue that he could be a steal.

Mel Kiper before the draft, for example, thought the third round was the right target area for him, and mentioned him as a candidate for rookie of the year.

WhenHaley was with the Kansas City Chiefs, he coveted the versatility of a similar player, Dexter McCluster, and sought to bring that kind of weapon to Pittsburgh when he became the team’s offensive coordinator in 2012.

That year, the Steelers drafted Chris Rainey in the fifth round, a player who on the surface will draw many comparisons with Archer. Rainey never became what was expected of him, however, both on and off the field.

While he occasionally flirted with danger on offense and as a return man, Rainey was simply too frail, routinely going down on first contact seemingly without fail. If he wasn’t running by you, he wasn’t getting any yards after contact.

With the shape the offensive line was in then, it wasn’t a good situation for Rainey to be in. After an off-field incident, the Steelers had no trouble letting him go.

The Steelers instead turned to a veteran of a similar mold for the 2013 season, signing slight running back LaRod Stephens-Howling in free agency.

He was bogged down with knee troubles for much of the offseason, however, outside of one impressive preseason performance, and he ended up tearing his ACL in the season opener.

For a player with his attributes, an ACL tear is a major blow. Surely by this point, the Steelers could have no interest in re-signing Stephens-Howling.

So it is that we arrive at take three for the great scat back project in year three of Haley’s offense, but while Archer may appear to be the best candidate of the three to find success, you’ll excuse me if I’m not overly optimistic about the chances of him being a significant contributor to the offense.

Watching through some of Archer’s college tape, he shows some of the same issues that Rainey had. Most concerning is the 13 career fumbles on 424 touches, which is once every 33 touches. That’s awful, and frankly should be concerning, though in his stellar 2012 season he fumbled only twice in 198 touches.

The other concern is that, like Rainey, he doesn’t have the strength to do much once a defender has his hands on him. While he seems to have a greater repertoire of evasive actions, and shows a greater willingness to meet contact and drive through it for yards after contact, he will need to rely on getting into the open field at the next level.

With that said, there’s also plenty to like about the potential he could bring to this offense, and about the fact that the offense should be better equipped to accommodate his skill set than it was with Rainey.

To that end, the focus here will be on the offensive line and the athleticism in space offered by Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro, and perhaps Kelvin Beachum at left tackle. With Mike Munchak on board working to properly install outside zone concepts into the offense, it would seem that Archer has a better chance of making full use of his skills than could be said of the offenses of recent years. But right now, it’s all hypothetical.

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