Since the end of the season, the Jets have signed a number of players to reserve/futures deals, which basically puts them under contract, at the league minimum, for the 2016 season. Over the next few months, we'll be looking at each of these. Today, we're taking a look at running back and return specialist Dri Archer. I've been looking at game footage to try and assess what Archer brings to the table.
The 24-year old Archer is listed as 5-foot-8 and 174 pounds, and was a third-round draft pick for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2014. After failing to make much of an impact, he was released last November and turned down offers from 10 different teams to join their practice squad. He signed with the Jets on Feb. 3.
Let's recap Archer's career so far and assess some of his strengths and weaknesses.
Who is Dri Archer?
Archer went to college at Kent State where he had a breakout season in his junior year. Archer rushed for over 1,400 yards and set career highs for receptions (39), kickoff return average (36.9) and total touchdowns (23). His senior year saw his numbers drop off as he injured his ankle on opening day and missed four games. He still averaged 7.8 yards per carry and scored 11 touchdowns in 10 games, though.
In the run-up to the NFL draft, Archer was looked upon as one of the best return specialist prospects in the draft and as someone who could potentially be a versatile offensive weapon as well. His stock rose when he ran a 4.26 40-yard dash at the scouting combine - a time bettered only by Chris Johnson in the electronic-timing era - and led to him being selected in the third round by the Steelers.
Archer's rookie season was disrupted by another ankle injury right at the start of the season, but he saw some time on offense and as a return man. However, his production was disappointing as he racked up just 77 yards from scrimmage, including postseason play. In 2015, he moved into a primary kickoff returner role, but barely saw any action on offense at all and didn't make enough of an impact to avoid being cut in November.
Let's look at Archer's numbers, and then review what he brings to the table.
Seasons - 2
Games - 20
Starts - 0
Rushing - 10 carries for 40 yards (15 long) and one for minus-one in the postseason
Receiving - 7 catches for 23 yards (15 long) on 10 targets and 3-15 in the postseason
Fumbles - 0
Dropped passes - 1
Punt returns - 1 for 2 yards
Kickoff returns - 23 returns, 22.4 yards per return average (38 long)
Note: Some stats from this article are provided by Pro Football Focus.
Here are my observations based on watching footage in detail from the last few seasons:
Usage: Archer wasn't just used as a conventional running back with the Steelers. In regular-season action, he was in the slot about 15 percent of the time and out wide about 20 percent of the time. He was mostly used in passing situations.
Athleticism/Measurables: Archer is diminutive but a great athlete. In addition to his sparkling 40-yard dash, he also posted terrific agility and explosiveness numbers. He also showcased some surprising strength for his size with 20 bench press reps. His quickness is readily apparent on film but he can be brought down on first contact at times.
Running Ability: Archer displays some burst and elusiveness in the open field, but needs room to work in. He hasn't really broken any tackles at the NFL level, but has shown the ability to side step or avoid contact well with sharp cuts and changes of direction. As expected, he also accelerates well in the open field.
Archer had some good success on draw plays in passing situations, taking advantage of the defensive line being spread out. He was able to manage to make something out of nothing on a few runs that were blown up by escaping to the outside.
Pass Protection: With his lack of size, Archer tends to struggle to anchor against a much bigger pass rusher. He stayed in to pass block just twice in his rookie season. He's done it a little more in preseason action, but hasn't held up particularly well. He surrendered four total pressures, including a hit and a sack in 12 pass blocking snaps. Most of those saw him essentially run over by the pass rusher.
Receiving Threat: Short passes can be a good way to get Archer into space and he's had good production on such plays in college and at the NFL level. Although his regular-season numbers aren't that impressive, he has another 18 catches for 166 yards in preseason action, including six catches in the first game of the 2015 preseason and two catches for 40+ yards in 2014.
While he has seen action on the outside, virtually all of this production has come on dump-off passes so he hasn't really displayed much in terms of route running or getting downfield since he's been in the NFL. There are plenty of examples of this on his collegiate highlight reel. Archer motioned out to the slot in a preseason game, where he was matched with a linebacker and he half-beat him on an arrow route to the end zone but couldn't make a diving catch on an overthrown pass. He also converted a third down by lining up out wide and running a quick-in route.
Archer's longest preseason play was a 46-yard gain where he lined up in the slot and then ran a tunnel screen after initially faking a route to the flat. He also had another 40-yard catch and run on a dump off pass. His longest regular season catch -- a 15-yarder -- came on a flat-and-up route.
Archer also had a 19-yard touchdown catch in the Steelers' playoff game against the Ravens in 2014 that was negated by a penalty. On that play, nobody covered him in the flat and he was wide open at the 10-yard line.
Hands: As noted, Archer was mostly just catching short passes so he didn't really get to display how good his hands were.
He had one drop and badly muffed a couple of punts, though. The drop was a concentration drop as he lined up in the slot for a screen pass, but looked down the field before securing the catch with a tackler lurking nearby.
Fumbles: Other than muffed kicks, Archer hasn't fumbled at the NFL level. However, he fumbled 13 times in four seasons at Kent State, losing 10.
Short yardage: Due to his lack of size, Archer isn't likely to be used much in these situations. However, I found two examples of the Steelers inserting him into the game in a short-yardage situation and using him as a decoy. Neither play was successful.
Special teams: Archer operated primarily as a return man for the Steelers, although he did also see some work as an up back on the return units. With Antonio Brown working as the main punt returner, Archer only got to return one punt and didn't have a lot of experience of returning punts in college either (just over one yard per return on six runbacks). He got some work there in preseason and had one 15-yard punt return, although that was after he muffed the catch. His other six returns netted just 10 yards, including one other muff.
With the Steelers, he was a non-factor in the return game as a rookie. In year two, they gave him a bigger role and he responded quite well, but still only got out past the 40 once before he got cut. However, his collegiate highlight tape showcases some spectacular return abilities. He had three kickoff return touchdowns in his junior year at Kent State and one more in his senior year, despite the fact he only returned two kicks that year.
Instincts: Archer looks comfortable in the open field, but his decision making could have been better at times. As noted, he didn't always field the ball cleanly and there was one play where his up-back told him to take a knee and he ran it out from deep and got stuffed.
There was one run in which the other team penetrated well at the line and he showed good vision by cutting back the other way and picking up 15.
Scheme fit: If Archer is to have a role on offense, it'd likely be as someone whom the Jets can create packages for to get him the ball in space. That has been somewhere the team has shown promise, but perhaps lacked a player with the open field elusiveness to maximize such opportunities. Archer could potentially be a good fit in terms of these types of looks, which would in turn help to set him apart from any other kick return candidates the Jets bring in.
Archer was a teammate of Jets guard Brian Winters in his first two seasons, but really had his breakout the season after Winters left. Winters was the left tackle in Archer's sophomore year.
Injuries: Durability has to be a concern for Archer due to his lack of size. He battled ankle injuries throughout 2013 and at the start of 2014.
Attitude/demeanor: Archer supposedly had a great attitude when he first arrived in Pittsburgh, responding well to plans to use him in a variety of ways. It must have been frustrating for him not to get many opportunities and there were mixed views on the fact that he turned down all those practice squad offers because he felt he deserved to be on a 53-man roster. Certainly some teams would view that negatively, even if it were a sign of self-confidence.
Conclusions: Archer was a major disappointment for Steelers fans. During his time with them, it seemed like his role was set to expand on a couple of occasions, but it never really happened and he only really had a handful of positive flashes during his 21 regular and postseason appearances.
Maybe the Steelers gave up on Archer prematurely and the Jets will have struck gold but this would require a significant turnaround. While his NFL experience so far has been underwhelming, there's no doubt Archer was an exciting collegiate player, so if he can make the adjustment to the pro level then perhaps the Jets will have someone that can bring them an element they sorely lacked in 2015. I do expect them to bring in competition for him though and maybe that will be good for Archer as he needs to make progress to establish himself at this level.
I'll be back to look at tight end Brandon Bostick next. We'll also look to get underway with the first of our positional reviews for the draft.