With an alarm clock that goes off at 4:30 am, dawn comes around fast in my household. It doesn’t help matters that I’m not a coffee drinker. But if I could watch more prospects with Dri Archer’s big-play ability, I’d have a great 5:00 am caffeine substitute.
The Kent State offensive weapon averaged 9 yards per carry (yes carry, not touch) on his 150 attempts in 2012. He was also the only player in the FBS to earn over 1300 yards rushing and catch over 500 yards of passes last year. There’s a good possibility that Black Mamba has nothing on Archer but more surrounding talent in a better offensive system.
The Go Daddy Bowl in Mobile Alabama might be one of Archer’s worst statistical outings – 99 total yards and a touchdown – but in this game Archer had one of the best non-scoring runs I saw last year. At 5’8″, 164 pounds, Archer is an inch shorter and 10 pounds lighter than Tavon Austin. Regardless of what anyone says, Austin will be a test case for smaller hybrid players. If Austin succeeds right away, Archer and DeAnthony Thomas could see their draft stock rise and we begin to hear analysts talk about skill in “pound-for-pound” terms.
If Austin’s game translates, here is a coming attraction of what Archer might bring to a pro stadium near you.
Short Area Handling + Long Speed = Instant Offense
Here’s a jet sweep in the first half of the Go Daddy Bowl where Archer gains 44 yards on one of the best individual displays of speed and agility I saw in 2012. This is a 1st and 10 at the Kent State 34 from a 1×2 receiver, 11 personnel set. Archer is the single receiver on the strong side of the formation and motions towards the quarterback, taking the jet sweep as the strong side guard and running back pulls to the weak side edge. Here’s the play and below it, my thoughts on how it unfolds.
Archer sets up his blocks with a fantastic cut inside the running back, who has to contend with an edge defender penetrating seven yards deep into the backfield. It’s not just the deep penetration early in the play that makes the ball carrier’s adjustment so impressive, it’s the fact that he has to dip inside the running back and away from the quarterback.
Avoiding one obstacle this early in a play is enough to foil most runners, but I’ve seen enough quarterback-runner collisions in my day to believe that what Archer does here is that 1 out of 10 scenario that worked in his favor. Archer then makes a second dip inside the pulling guard as he gets just outside the hash to reach the line of scrimmage.
These two cuts not only prevent a loss, but open the field for a huge gain up the hash and flat. He beats the backside defender with his acceleration is in the second level. Eight yards later, he dips outside the safety with a lightning-quick change of direction at top speed as he crosses the first down marker.
Archer beats the defensive back around the corner and reaches the 50 (16 yards into his 44-yard gain) with another secondary defender five yards down field with an angle on the runner. Archer reaches the 45, takes two steps and dips inside the corner, using his outside arm to ward off the defender.
This is a strong example of how a stiff arm can have value as either an expression of leverage or power. In Archer’s case it’s a simple tap of the flat-footed defensive back’s shoulder as he’s executing a swift cut to get behind three lineman working up field at the 40 and the stiff arm sends the defender to the ground.
Archer crosses behind these linemen at the 40, cuts across to the left hash at the 35, and makes a sharp cut inside the safety at the 30. If he doesn’t have to run into his wide receiver to make the cut he probably continues across the field and scores. However, the combination of his cut to avoid the corner and the flash of his teammate behind him forces Archer to cut towards traffic where there are five defenders within a five-yard radius.
As he reaches the 25 Archer is wrapped and it ends one of the best runs I’ve seen all year.
Again, I’ll recap why I loved this run and how it might give us a clue to what could make him a successful NFL prospect as an offensive/special teams weapon:
- Archer has a feel for anticipating and avoiding penetration.
- The ball carrier’s quickness and change of direction isn’t predicated on stop-start moves that don’t work as well in the NFL; he bends runs and accelerates through cuts, which coupled with his anticipation makes it even more difficult for backside pursuit to get easy plays when penetration alters the runner’s path.
- Archer has a feel for setting up blocks and despite his electronically timed 4.28-speed, he has the patience to work behind his blockers.
- Kent State’s big-play weapon plays with good pad level, keeps his legs moving, and understands the value of using a stiff arm to ward off contact as opposed to an instrument of punishment.
If not Austin, Why Not DeSean Jackson?
The Eagles receiver is 6’0″, 178 pounds and has shown he’s a capable, impact player as an NFL starter split from the formation. Archer has the fundamental skills that teams can build on when it comes to receiving: He catches the ball with his hands away from his body, and he doesn’t let impending contact dissuade him from attacking the football or break his concentration.
I also like that there is some evidence of Jackson using his hands and feet to work free of a potential jam from Dolphins draft pick Don Jones on this play.
This 18-yard gain is Archer’s final catch of the game – 2nd and 10 at the Arkansas State 45 with 0:57 in the half from a 2×1 receiver, 11 personnel shotgun set. Archer is the slot man on the strong side at the right hash with a safety playing 15 yards off the hash and Jones as the nickel back playing two yards off the line of scrimmage to Archer’s inside.
A second safety is in the middle of the field about eight yards off the line of scrimmage but Archer and the quarterback do a good job of reading him crowd the line of scrimmage as the pre-snap phase ends. It this safety that gives the quarterback and receiver an opening to exploit.
Archer does a fine job of using his hands to avoid Jones’ jam as he slants across the field to the opposite hash, catching the ball 12 yards to the opposite hash with his hands.
I haven’t seen enough from Archer to give a serious comparison to Austin or Jackson beyond his athleticism and open-field skill. In these respects, Archer fits within this spectrum of athlete. However, as much as I appreciate what Archer does from the backfield I can’t help but see him more as a niche player than an every-down threat unless he’s drafted as a receiver.
There’s more I have to watch before I can deliver a more definitive analysis. Still, Archer is a player who can wake up defenses and fans in a hurry and it makes him worth watching when Kent State takes the field in September.
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