Friday, May 16, 2014

Dri Archer is a "starter" return guy -- Kevin Colbert

Dri Archer
"Return guys change games. In my mind, return guys are starters."

That's what Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said about late third-round draft choice Dri Archer at about the 5:43 mark of this video of his during his post-draft news conference with Mike Tomlin.

That remark -- "return guys are starters" -- caught our attention because kick returners touch the ball only a few times a game, maybe, and they've traditionally been almost an afterthought (or at least not very effective) in the Steelers' overall scheme for years. Latest examples: Felix Jones and Jonathan Dwyer.

But Colbert made a point to say that Archer projects to be an elite kick returner in the mold of NFL greats Mel Gray and Devin Hester:
"They change games," Colbert said. "When you get a guy like that who can change a game, his kick-return game is unique. It's really special. Whatever value he can add to us offensively, we see some value there."
As if to emphasize that last point, Mike Tomlin added:
"This guy was a highly productive offensive player. In 2012, he had 1,400 yards rushing. A legitimate route-runner. A skill set that shows he's a real receiver, yes, he's a splash play-maker. Regardless of position, he's a playmaker. He's a guy that can get yards in chunks and raise up the scoreboard."
Okay, so it sounds as if the Steelers plan to use Archer in spot situations on offense, but according to Colbert, he was really drafted primarily as a kick returner, which is a position Colbert said he considers a "starter."

If that's the case, we all wondered, what about Archer's ability to return punts? Why didn't he do it much at Kent State? Punt returns are a lot different than kickoff returns. They take a bit of a different skill set: steady nerves, field vision, and a slightly different way of fielding the ball. Antonio Brown is excellent at all of that and seems very comfortable fielding punts. He looks like a natural, and we've always felt confident he would at least catch the ball cleanly and that he has the ability to break a long return on every punt.

We were worried about Archer possibly not being able to do that until we heard a radio interview David Todd (970-AM) conducted Tuesday with Bob Rock, offensive coordinator, Kent State. Rock said Archer sustained a high ankle sprain early in the 2013 season -- otherwise he would have been Kent State's punt returner in 2013. Rock emphasized that Archer is "a natural" at it and said we should have no worries about his ability to field and return punts as well as kickoffs.

Dave Bryan over at Steelers Depot wrote up a nice report on the interview, and you read his post here, along with a link to the interview itself.

We're hoping Archer takes the punt/kickoff return job and runs with it. If he become the next Devin Hester, Mel Gray or Tim Dwight, all the better. And, like Tomlin said, if he can "get yards in chunks and raise up the scoreboard," better yet.

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