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.

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