The MAC has become a midweek offensive explosion to get people a taste of college football during the week. There might not be a better example of the fun, backyard style offense the MAC has evolved into than Kent State running back Dri Archer and there is no player in college that has gotten more out of less this year than he did listed at 5’7” 165lbs. The All-American is simply electric with the ball in his hands and always a threat to score. While his size will no doubt hurt him coming into the the NFL, his speed, change of direction, and versatility could ultimately help him overcome that and allow him to have a productive NFL career.
Speed is speed. Dri Archer's track speed in the MAC will still be track speed in the NFL. That will not change and he will still have the ability to break big plays, but he will not have as much space to operate and those plays will obviously be more difficult to create in the NFL. Dri Archer also has an assortment of moves he can use in the open field to make defenders miss including jump cuts, spin moves, and the ability to stop and start incredibly well. He can make guys miss and possesses the explosiveness and to get to full speed so he is as long as he is not down, he is a threat to score. In that sense, he has a Barry Sanders or Reggie Bush quality to him.
The problem for Archer is aside from occasionally beating weak arm tackles, he rarely breaks any meaningful tackle attempt. As electric as he is as a runner, when the defense gets to him, he goes down and down quickly. When running between the tackles, it is typically all or nothing with Archer. And he can put all the work in the weight room he wants, this is probably never going to change. If there is a hole, he will hit it and if it is open, he might score, but some of these NFL defensive linemen throw around Dri Archer sized medicine balls. Archer is also not a workhorse back. He averaged less than 20 touches per game for Kent State and he led their team in basically everything. Ideally, Archer would get about 10 touches per game in the NFL in the offense and then around 5 or so on returns. He is not a guy who will do function well if he's dinged up with anything that could hurt his speed and explosiveness.
Archer's strengths have far outweighed his weaknesses for Kent State this season as he has amassed 2,460 yards total yards and 22 touchdowns between runs, receptions, and returns earning him All-American recognition. 573 of those yards on kick returns, 539 yards from receptions, and 1,352 yards running the ball. Archer averaged 35.81 yards per kick return and 10.22 yards per offensive touch. If there is a disappointing stat, it is that Archer only had one punt return for -4 yards this year. But when it comes to offense, what makes Archer's incredible production even more impressive is that the Golden Flashes could not really pass the ball. Archer's 35 catches and 539 yards were good enough to be the best on the team. While Archer was not alone in the backfield as they also had their hammer in Trayion Durham (who rushed for 1248 yards and 14 touchdowns of his own), they knew Kent State was running the ball.
There is an argument for Archer to declare for the NFL draft this year purely from a stock standpoint. At his size, it is unfair but there is always going to be the question regarding how many carries his body will have. In addition to that, another year in the weight room probably will not make that much of a difference. Coach Darrell Hazell has accepted the head coaching position at Purdue and Arkansas Defensive Coordinator Paul Haynes has reportedly agreed to take the Kent State job, so the offense could be different and rather than learn his offense, he may want to go ahead and get paid to learn one. The Golden Flashes and Archer will also be losing their highly touted left tackle, Brian Winters. So while Archer could come back and have another All-American caliber season and maybe be a factor for the Heisman trophy, it is no guarantee and even if he does, it is unlikely Archer’s stock will be any higher next year than now.
If Archer goes back to Kent for his senior year, in addition to simply trying to add more bulk, he should spend a significant amount of time working on improving as a receiver and returning punts. Under Coach Hazell, Archer was used in the slot in addition to in the backfield and defenses had to respect that speed in all areas of the field. While Archer did make his fair share of plays as a receiver, he is extremely raw with his hands and as a route runner. He is most comfortable letting the ball get into his body down the field and he has a small catch radius. If he can get better and more confident in his hands, it really opens up the number of ways he can be employed in both college and the NFL. It may be difficult for Archer to get much better as a punt returner on tape because it may be difficult to get anyone to kick to him, but if he can become as dynamic a punt returner as he is a kick returner, it would substantially increase his viability in the NFL. He basically has to if he wants to stick on an NFL roster, because he cannot be a part time back and only a kick returner, especially with what appears to be a bleak future for the kickoff as a whole.
The player that comes to mind with Archer is Eric Metcalf. Physically, these two are built differently (Metcalf was 5'10" and about 188lbs), but in terms of what they can do on a football field and how they do it, they are quite similar. Both players are dynamic returners on special teams and have game breaking ability. On the offensive side of the ball, both guys have the ability to score on any given play, but neither guy should be doing much in between the tackles. When Metcalf went to the Falcons, he transitioned from halfback to slot receiver where he had a 100 catch season. Archer may never put up that kind of production, but if he commits himself to improving his hands and working on his craft as a receiver, a creative coach will keep finding ways to use him in their offense.
If Archer goes back for his senior year, it is likely that he will be facing off against Jordan Lynch from Northern Illinois to see if either can be a serious threat for the Heisman trophy out of the MAC, but whenever Dri Archer ends up in the draft, it is likely he will be the third running back on a roster. He would start out trying to make an impact on special teams and then work on getting some looks on offense as a speed threat and open field nightmare. It is easy to discount Archer because of his size in a league of giants, but does anyone really want to bet he will not end up on a highlight reel at some point? Some may suggest the possibility that Archer could go on day two of the draft, but given his limitations especially when it comes to the number of snaps he can realistically get, it seems like a risky proposition, so he is more likely to hear his name called sometime on day three and he can try to prove everyone wrong just like he did in college.
Towson, Buffalo, and Bowling Green 2012
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