The rookie season of Le’Veon Bell got off to a rocky start, as despite his sterling reputation coming out of Michigan State as a workhorse, he missed the early portion of it with a Lisfranc injury, a tricky but serious injury if not treated with care.
However, late in the 2013 season he showed glimpses of why the team had such high hopes as it’s running back of the future when they took him in the axons round of the 2013 NFL Draft. His 2014 season was the complete opposite, as he took the league by storm, leading the AFC in rushing with 1,361 yards to go along with 854 yards through the air en route to first-team All-Pro honors.
The 2014 NFL Draft saw the team reach to the running back well again in the third round, when they took the dynamic Dri Archer. Tabbed as a do-it-all spark plug in the mold of Darren Sproles, Archer failed to live up to his billing last season, providing none of his trademark splash plays that made him such a high draft pick. Many even questioned it, calling it a “luxury pick” by a team with many needs on the defensive side of the ball.
Ultimately, heading into year 2, it could be fair to say that there’s a large monkey riding on the back of the 5-foot-8, 173-pounder. Those around him are certainly noticing, including guard David DeCastro.
“I believe if Dri hits his stride, we’ll have another weapon in the toolbox,” DeCastro said, according to Ralph N. Paulk of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “He isn’t just feeling his way around anymore. He’s a much more confident player.”
The team needed to upgrade it’s depth in the backfield heading into the offseason, for practical purposes and also to help sting the blow of Bell’s two-game suspension to begin the year. However, instead of sulking about it and accepting his role as a reserve, it’s made Archer work that much harder to prove his critics wrong.
A common negativity regarding him is his size, something he says he’s dealt with his entire career.
“People have being saying that about me my whole life,” Archer said , according to Paulk. “At every level, I’ve heard it. At every level, I’ve been successful.”
However, the NFL is a different animal, where running inside is like navigating through a forest of trees with some defensive tackles weighing in excess of 350 pounds.
However, as previously stated, Archer’s confidence is way up after a year in the system and he’s looking forward to the upcoming season to show off his versatility, whether it be more snaps on offense, or on special teams, perhaps taking over for All-Pro Antonio Brown as the primary punt returner, since Brown’s worth to the team cannot be measured.
Archer, along with wide receiver Markus Wheaton, split the kickoff return duties last year and Wheaton, who has a year on Archer as he’s entering his third year, feels Archer is just scratching the surface of what he’s capable of.
“He’s so fast, sometimes he wants to do everything to show just how fast he is, Wheaton said, according to Paulk. “If you watched Le’Veon last season, he was very patient. Dri was going 100 mph, but he’s come a long way. You can see him setting up his blocks better.”
There was a night and day difference between Bell’s rookie and sophomore campaigns, as previously mentioned. Is it silly or premature to expect the same from Archer? That’s exactly what he wants, more of the same doubters he’s faced all his life.
“I’ve been striving to prove everyone wrong,” said Archer, according to Paulk. “I’m not feeling any pressure because I know what I’m capable of. I just want the ball in my hands to make something happen.”