Coming out of a draft class full of players being thrust into significant roles, perhaps no second-year player faced a greater amount of pressure to get off to a good start than running back-wide receiver Dri Archer, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ third-round draft pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.
While he had a couple of down notes, the second-year back flashed prominently in the first half of the contest, especially with three running backs sitting the game out.
Archer certainly authored some notable highlights, including a pair of third-and-long conversions, although, of course, he had some prominent co-authors in his efforts, in particular his friends along the offensive line.
Consider his mercurial 15-yard run on a third-and-13 play late in the first quarter. Right guard David DeCastro successfully navigated the defensive tackle to the backside of the play, while right tackle Marcus Gilbert stoned the defensive end until after Archer snuck through. Playing tight against the line, he fooled one defender at the line of scrimmage before outrunning one defender, making another miss, and barreling into a cornerback as he stumbled.
Of course, the conclusion of that sentence serves to highlight some of the negatives that were featured even in his positive plays. It seemed at times that Archer was out of control and quick to lose his feet, and for a player whose primary asset is his sheer speed especially, that is not what you hope to see.
But Archer did impress overall, as sheer speed will always find a way to make a play from time to time. But the truth is that he does look different from last season. He runs with more confidence and authority, and his patience and vision seem to be improving.
In all, Archer had four carries for 24 yards, six receptions for 33 yards, and one kick return for 34 yards. Displaying his ability to make plays as a runner, pass catcher, and returner is a big step in his development, and will certainly help to get him to see more playing time on the field.
Not that his role should expect to expand significantly in any way. We’ve also seen that he continues to and will likely always be limited in other fundamental aspects of the game, particularly in pass protection.
On one occasion, near the Steelers’ goal line, the Vikings ran a stunt, with the linebacker crashing into the right guard, allowing the lineman to dive inside, picked up by Archer, who was quickly driven back into the pocket.
Said lineman ultimately worked his way back far enough for a sack. It was a well-designed play, but its design was to expose the slight running back against a defensive lineman. It is for this reason, the inability to count on him in the backfield, that his snaps will remain limited, except as a wide receiver, if necessary.
Most egregious, he muffed a punt at the end of the first half after the Steelers made a defensive stop to give him the opportunity. That certainly won’t help him earn that job. As much as he has to show the ability to make plays, he also must show that he can play error-free. But overall, this start presented more good than bad, with reason for optimism that he can be a contributor.