The thing about Dri Archer is that, in order for him to be most effective, and to contribute the most to the Pittsburgh Steelers, the coaching staff must make a concerted effort to employ him in ways and at times that best serve his talents.
Fortunately, the coaching staff seems to understand this, as they’ve been saying all the right things since selecting him in the third round of the draft.
Perhaps this understanding has come from the trial and error of past efforts, most notably with running back Chris Rainey in 2012. While he did well on kick returns, averaging 26.5 yards per return on 39 attempts, he struggled to make meaningful contributions to the offense.
This was largely because of the offense’s inability to put him in appropriate situations and with the appropriate personnel.
Of course, he also fumbled four times (and twice again in 2013 with the Indianapolis Colts in an even more limited role), so it certainly can’t be put squarely on the team’s shoulders. Rainey had a great deal to do with his own struggles.
The Steelers didn’t get much opportunity to work with LaRod Stephens-Howling last season due to the fact that he tore his ACL in the game opener, but the general sense was that they wouldn’t be treating him much differently than any other back.
Granted, Rainey, Stephens-Howling, and Archer are certainly not the same player, and can’t simply be compared on an even basis, even if they appear to be asked to fulfill a similar role within the offense. But the variable that the team does have control over is how they choose to employ their latest scat back.
Chances are the Steelers wouldn’t have drafted him in the third round if they didn’t envision finding creative and effective ways of getting the ball in his hands. Certainly, kick returns are a given—perhaps punt returns as well.
When it comes to the offensive side of the ball, however, expect both James Saxon and Richard Mann to be in his ear, because he’ll be asked to contribute both from out of the backfield as a runner and out wide and in the slot as a receiver.
While he potentially has somewhat inconsistent hands and occasionally resorts to body catching, Archer is actually a fairly solid route runner, aided greatly by his fluidity of motion. He caught just under 100 passes in his college career for a bit under 1200 yards, scoring 12 touchdowns through the air.
While the Steelers describe him as “short” rather than “small”, given his ability to knock out 20 reps on the bench press at the combine, the fact of the matter is that it’s still not that difficult to bring him down, even if he’s willing to fight through contact and for extra yardage, if he can manage it.
Keeping him healthy and contributing in the offense will surely be an evolving process requiring adjustment as they gain a feel for what he can do, and as defenses adjust to his speed on the field. Variety may be the key to keeping him effective. Hopefully the coaching staff and offensive personnel will be able to get the most out of what he has to offer.