The Pittsburgh Steelers drafted Dri Archer at the end of the third round of the 2014 NFL Draft hoping that he would be a weapon both on offense and special teams. I choose the word ‘weapon’ deliberately because the second-year player was not given a specific position.
Instead, Archer was listed as “WR/RB” on the depth chart, and has attended meetings for both the running backs and the wide receiver group, although his primary unit to work with appears to be the running backs.
That assertion would be backed up by the way that the Steelers shaped their roster last season, by carrying six wide receivers versus just three running backs, including himself, though not including h-back Will Johnson, who primarily plays as a tight end most recently.
During his rookie season, however, Archer was used primarily as a wide receiver, although this data is admittedly skewed because of the fact that a significant chunk of his usage came in a game in which Le’Veon Bell was injured and the Steelers were trailing.
Pro Football Focus has Archer down for 82 total snaps on offense including the postseason, with 66 of them including him running routes. But 30 of those routes came on his 31 total snaps during that postseason loss, which, as mentioned, featured the Steelers trailing.
Recently, it was announced that the Kansas City Chiefs had moved De’Anthony Thomas from running back to wide receiver as “an acknowledgement of his limitations in the backfield”, although he gained 113 yards on 14 carries during his rookie season in 2014. That included runs of 17, 26, 22, 14, and 18 yards.
But he also had 23 receptions on the year for 156 yards, and if you look at his college numbers, his work in the passing game has always been a significant element of his game. In three years at Oregon, he totaled 243 rushes to 113 receptions, with the ratio of carries to receptions increasing yearly. He caught 46 passes to only 55 rushes during his first year.
Archer, of similar height and weight, many might surely think could be in for a similar transition, based on the fact that he recorded 40 yards on 10 carries as a rookie. But Archer was never quite the same type of receiver as Thomas, both in terms of usage and polish.
During his collegiate career, Archer was primarily a ball carrier in spite of his miniscule size, with 325 rushes to his name for 2342 yards. His 99 receptions in comparison seems slight, even if he averaged 12.1 yards per reception and recorded 12 receiving touchdowns.
Perhaps a full-time position switch may be in Archer’s future someday, particularly if the coaching staff feels it necessary to give up on one aspect of his game for the sake of another. But I don’t think that his transition full-time to receiver would be as fluid, because he doesn’t seem to be a natural pass catcher with a limited catch radius, which would force his manner of usage to be limited, and thus predictable.