Now that we have completed our look at the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 90-man roster heading into training camp a bit under a month from now, it’s time to take a look back at the team’s 53-man roster from last year’s regular season, for the purpose of revisiting the contributions of the players that are no longer with the team, and whether or not those contributions have been adequately replaced.
Roster turnover is just a natural fact of today’s NFL, which have only become more prominent since the advent of free agency more than two decades ago. It’s very rare for a team to return all 11 starters on one side of the ball from one year to the next, let alone to do so for both the offense and defense.
The Steelers are certainly no exception to that rule, and they figure to have a number of lineup changes from 2015 to 2016, which seems to be increasingly common for them in recent years.
He only spent half of the 2015 season with the Steelers, but the departure of former running back and wide receiver Dri Archer is a not insignificant one, considering the history of his investment. Pittsburgh used a compensatory third-round draft pick on him in 2014, the 97th pick in the draft, and hoped that they were getting a dynamic, game-breaking weapon, but that never exactly happened.
Posting the second-fastest Combine time ever with a 40-yard dash time of 4.28 seconds, Archer’s speed alone was thought to be enough to give him the ability to have at least some level of success on the NFL level, and he was showed himself to be a capable return man in college with four touchdowns on 24 total kick returns over his final two seasons.
Unfortunately, he never really got the opportunity to make full use of his speed at the NFL level, as he never recorded a kick return of 40 yards or more on 20 total attempts between the 2014 and 2015 seasons. He recorded 17 offensive touches in his rookie season, but he saw far fewer total offensive snaps, and no touches, last season.
Though he looked to be improving, averaging a respectable 25.3 yards per kick return in 2015, the Steelers were not satisfied with his performance, and when they had the opportunity to claim accomplished returner Jacoby Jones off waivers, they released Archer, signaling the fact that they no longer viewed him as an offensive option.
Archer subsequently declined to sign with the Steelers’ practice squad, as well as every other practice squad, offer, hoping instead to find a place on a 53-man roster, but that never came. The Jets originally signed him to a Reseve/Future contract, but was then released, and then the Bills signed him, but he did not report.
In the meantime, the Steelers seem to have gotten the scat back out of their system, and are looking at rookie Demarcus Ayers potentially as taking over the kick return role, even if they have referred to him in terms of returning punts. But somebody has to return those kicks, and Markus Wheaton didn’t exactly flatter himself in that role.