We've all heard the famous words by the late ultimate Raider Al Davis, "Speed kills," and "You can't teach speed." They are idioms by which Davis lived (and figuratively died), and by which NFL coaches and owners still often live today. Including those of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
With their third pick on the 2014 NFL Draft, the Steelers selected Dri Archer, running back out of Kent State. He was a player I had wanted going into the draft, but I felt he could be gotten in the fourth or even fifth round. But, as I alluded to earlier, teams fall in love with speed, and a 4.26/40 - also having an "unofficial" 4.16/40 - is easy to fall in love with.
That's not just fast, that's "Oh, sh**!" fast.
Speed is coveted, yes. Speed can be the X-factor that can make the difference over the course of a game or an entire season. Just ask the Seattle Seahawks. But, speed alone won't get Hermes to Mount Olympus. Nor does it get an NFL player gridiron success.
Just consider names such as Jimmy "Oops" Hines, Johnny Lam Jones, Renaldo Nehemiah, Ron Brown...all of whom had numerous World and/or Olympic speed records between them, yet few receptions, touchdowns or years in the NFL.
Archer worked strictly with the running back group in the few minicamp practices so far, but has changed his number from 34 to 13 - a wide receiver's number. He did play a lot of WR his last year at Kent State, though, and has said the Steelers have told him they plan on using him "creatively." - http://www.behindthesteelcurtain.com/2014/5/22/5741166/steelers-dri-archer-offense-wide-receiver
Recent words by Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin seem to echo that sentiment.
"Is he a running back? Is he a wideout? Regardless of position," Tomlin said, "I think he’s a playmaker. He's a guy that gets yards in chunks and rings up the scoreboard."
Point blank, Archer has more tools than Black & Decker. Over his career, he had 325 rushes for 2,342 yards (7.2 yards per carry) and 24 touchdowns. He also caught 99 passes for 1,194 yards (12 yards per reception) and 12 scores.
He was also a return man, returning 51 kicks for 1,436 yards (28.2 yards per return) and four touchdowns, positions which Steelers GM Kevin Colbert says in his mind "are starters," and saying of Archer specifically that "his kick return ability is unique. It really is special." - http://youtu.be/9ILPHki7-Ww
When you watch the tape on Archer, you can see him read his blocks as he turns it up the field. Upon getting out of the backfield, you even see him breaking some tackles proving he more than just speed. There's a reason he played running back and rushed for all those yards, including despite battling ankle injuries in 2013. The tape does not lie - get him the ball in space and let him use his awesome lateral athleticism to play a life-size game of Madden with 11 grown men.
Because of his size, however, Archer won't be on the field on every down. When he does take the field on offense, though, you will see him get the ball on draws, sweeps, screens and from the slot. Add the return game to that and his vision, athleticism and speed will make him a nightmare to tackle.
Though his touches may be limited, especially early on, because of the talent around him at running back and wide receiver, defenses will have to prepare for him any time he is on the field.
The Steelers have been down this road before, however, as they attempted to get a Dexter McCluster-like player for offensive coordinator Todd Haley whom he coached with the Kansas City Chiefs. Another small, versatile and fast X-factor player who added another dimension to the Chief's offense.
In 2012, they drafted RB Chris Rainey (lasting just one season after 14 receptions and 26 rushes), who was let go because of gambling and assault allegations.
In April of 2013, they picked up unrestricted free agent RB LaRod Stephens-Howling, or LaSH, on a one-year deal with the Steelers from the Arizona Cardinals. He accumulated only six rushes, two catches and one return before being injured and lost for the year.
Aside: being that LaSH was "only" a 4.48/40 guy, the other most recent diminutive speedster to be considered would be Reggie Dunn. At Utah's Pro Day, Dunn ran a 4.22/40. But, not having enough versatility, he never made the final roster.
Now, the third is hopefully the charm for the Steelers. Being that he's faster - he was also clocked at an "unofficial" 4.16/40 - and stronger than both Rainey and LaSH, he could ultimately prove to be better for the Steelers than they could have been and easily as good of a weapon as McCluster was.
All of this is encouraging as we move forward into OTAs, which begin Tuesday of this week, but his speed and college stats will not matter if he isn't ready mentally also.
“I think I made a pretty good impression. Learning the playbook. A lot to think about.”
A lot indeed. Because, remember Renaldo Nehemiah mentioned earlier in the article? He lost his job to some slow WR who ran a 4.71/40. I think his name was Jerry Rice or something...
TIDBITS: The Steelers begin OTAs Tuesday, May 27. The specific dates for the Steelers’ 10 OTAs are May 27, May 28, May 29, June 3, June 4, June 5, June 9, June 10, June 11, and June 12.
There will also be a mandatory three-day minicamp June 17-19. Then an approximate month will pass before Latrobe.