Wednesday, May 28, 2014

In defense of the Dri Archer Draft Pick

Nobody should be surprised that the first three draft picks will start for the Steelers. To start the season.

Ryan Shazier starts. Stephon Tuitt starts. Dri Archer starts. 

Yes, even Dri Archer. He starts. General Manager Kevin Colbert said so

Selected with the 33rd pick in the third round, Archer will start as a kick returner (kickoffs and punts). He will also get a significant number of snaps at both running back and as a receiver, presumably in the slot, mostly, but also some on the outside. As a kick returner, he should certainly help improve field position, which was a trouble-spot for the Steelers last year because of their mostly lackluster kick-return game.

If Shazier, Tuitt and Archer don't start immediately for a team coming off consecutive 8-8 seasons, something will have gone drastically wrong between now and the start of the regular season.

People have questioned the Archer draft pick in particular. Archer's selection immediately raised howls of protest from some Steeler fans, bloggers and media types. Many called him a "luxury pick" and said the Steelers could have gotten him with their fourth-round choice ... that they should have taken a "tall" wide receiver instead in the third round -- say, for example, Martavis Bryant, whom the Steelers took with their next pick anyway, in the fourth round at No. 118 overall.

How the next 20 picks shook out ...
Well, we're always interested to see who else was available in situations like this, so let's take a look.  

Immediately after the Steelers drafted Archer, the next two picks, also compensatory selections that closed out the third round, were tight ends:  Richard Rodgers, 6'4", 257, from Cal, to the Packers; and Crockett Gillmore, 6'6", 260, Coloroado State, to the Ravens. With the final, 36th pick of the third round, No. 100 overall, the 49ers selected Brandon Thomas, OT, 6'6", 317, Clemson. Those weren't necessarily the kind of guys the Steelers were looking for at the point they took Archer. They wanted an immediate playmaker, so they went with Archer.

Twenty players went off the board between Archer and pick No. 118, when the Steelers selected their 6'4" receiver, Martavis Bryant, Clemson.

Two small running backs ... 
In the run-up to Bryant, the first 17 selections selections in the fourth round included five cornerbacks, one strong safety, three running backs: Devonta Freeman5'8", 206, Florida St., to the Falcons; Andre Williams, 5'11", 230, Boston College, to the Giants; and Carey Ka'Deem, 5'9", 207, Arizona, to the Bears with pick No. 117, immediately before the Steelers took Martavis Bryant at No. 118.

Two of the three running backs, Freeman and Ka'Deem, are notable because they are diminutive and fast, like Archer, and project to fit more or less the same type of role, although not exactly, If Archer had still been on the board, it's reasonable to think the Falcons and Bears would have considered him instead of Freeman or Ka'Deem. Archer may well not have been available for the Steelers at No. 118.

And two small receivers ...
The other interesting part of what happened in those first 17 picks of the fourth round was the type of wide receivers taken. Not one of the three was a "tall" receiver (6'3" or taller). In fact, the first two of them are listed at 5'9", which makes them closer in body type to Archer than to Bryant and also makes us wonder whether those teams (the Jets and 49ers) might have selected Archer had he been available in those slots. In all cases, the three teams selecting receivers clearly valued them over Bryant.

The receivers taken after Archer, and ahead of Bryant, were:

4(104)Jets (From Buccaneers)Saunders, JalenWR5'9"165Oklahoma

6(106)49ers (From Browns)Ellington, BruceWR5'9"197South Carolina

15(115)JetsEvans, ShaqWR6'1"213UCLA

Clearly, the Steelers like Archer better than Saunders or Ellington (both 5'9"), and they even had Ellington in for a pre-draft visit. 

The point here is, for all the pundits who objected to the Steelers drafting Archer at the end of the third round and claimed they could have gotten him later, the answer is, "No. They wouldn't have been able to draft Archer in the fourth round, at No. 118 overall. He would have been gone." 

That's because one of the teams that selected small, quick-fast RBs/WRs/KRs would have selected Archer instead of the guys they took: The Falcons (Freeman), Bears (Ka'Deem), Jets (Saunders) and 49ers (Ellington) all took speedy players who were 5'9" or shorter and fit the role, to some extent, that Archer projects to play for the Steelers -- only probably with more limitations, not nearly so multi-dimensionally, and likely with less immediate dynamic impact. The Steelers might have ended up with one of those guys, if they'd taken Bryant in the third round instead of Archer; but they clearly liked Archer better than any of them, including Bryant. The Steelers are counting on Archer to make more of an immediate impact. 

What's up for debate, perhaps, is the players selected after Bryant, with the question still to be answered: Could the Steelers have done better than the roll of the dice they took on Bryant? That's another story for another day.

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