While it has been true for many years in recent times that the Pittsburgh Steelers have gotten little productivity on offense or defense out of their rookie players, that has been less of a truism in recent years, particularly, perhaps, over the last two seasons.
While the Steelers have gotten some starts out of rookie offensive linemen over the years, they have gotten greater productivity from skill position players and defensive players in more complicated roles recently, which has been a change of pace—and frankly makes reviewing a draft class after its first season a more enjoyable task.
The Steelers selected nine players in the draft, though only six made the initial 53-man roster. Seven of them remain with the organization. While one undrafted free agent did spend some time on the roster, there are also a few who have spent time on the practice squad that are worth consideration as well.
Player: Dri Archer
Draft Status: 3rd round (97th overall)
The Pittsburgh Steelers selected running back Dri Archer at the back of the third round with the highest compensatory pick of the draft, after having previously traded away their natural third-round draft pick the year before. Thus, Archer was the 97th overall selection.
Of course, with workhorse Le’Veon Bell already in the arena, and with the offseason addition of LeGarrette Blount, it was assumed that Archer wouldn’t be pressured to do very much right away. As a slight, short back with excellent speed, he was destined for a role as a gadget type of player whose main contributions early on should have come on special teams.
Neither opportunity really ever emerged. Not only did Archer fail to satisfy enough in the preseason to wrestle away the punt return job from All-Pro wide receiver Antonio Brown, he was even taken off the kick return duties a few games into the season.
In the regular season, Archer saw the vast majority of his playing time in the season opener. He accounted for 15 snaps, but he touched the ball just once on a four-yard carry. He suffered an ankle injury that caused him to miss the next two games—not to mention the mid-week practices and preparation—which made it difficult for him to get back on the field.
In every other game for which he dressed in the regular season, Archer was limited to under 10 snaps. His most active appearance, in terms of performance, was during a three-rush, one-reception game against Cleveland in which he recorded his longest run of the season for 15 yards. In all, he rushed 10 times for 40 yards and caught seven passes for 23 yards.
But when Bell went down in the season finale, Archer got a lot of playing time in the playoffs. Though he only carried the ball once for minus one yard, he was targeted five times (one negated by penalty, which would have been a touchdown). He caught three of the four permitted targets for 15 yards.
The overall sense in watching that game, however, was that the Steelers still haven’t really figured out how to use Archer. But there’s still a lot that Archer has to figure out himself, as he admitted recently. He will be looking for a fresh start in 2015, bulking up and slowing the game down so that he can fully utilize the advantage granted him by his elite speed.