Steelers hope Archer's speed is an asset
The Steelers began their three-day rookie minicamp Friday, and because Dri Archer was there, it wasn't a routine day on the South Side.
The career of the young man who might be the fastest player in team history officially began.
The Steelers have had fast players — Willie Parker, Dwight Stone, Mike Wallace and Ike Taylor among them — but Archer could turn out to be the fleetest of the fleet.
“He's really fast,” said first-round draft pick Ryan Shazier, himself the fastest inside linebacker at the NFL Combine.
Since the NFL Combine adopted its current sophisticated electronic timing system, Archer's 40-yard dash time of 4.26 seconds is the second-fastest to running back Chris Johnson's 4.24 in 2008.
What really puts Archer's exceptional speed in context is his hand-held time of 4.18 in Indianapolis — one that puts him among the elite players in NFL history. Deion Sanders, for example, is one of the fastest defensive backs ever, and his 40 time was 4.21.
Parker was timed at 4.23, and Stone, the fastest Steelers player former coach Chuck Noll ever saw, ran a 4.25.
When asked if he anticipates being the NFL's fastest player, Archer replied, “Yes, sir” without hesitation.
Despite his size — the Steelers list him at 5-foot-8, 173 pounds — Archer nearly was unstoppable when healthy at Kent State.
In 2012, he ran for 1,429 yards (9 yards per carry), caught 39 passes and scored a school-record 23 touchdowns. Severely limited by a left ankle injury last season — thus canceling Kent State's plans to mount a Heisman Trophy campaign for him — Archer still averaged 7.8 yards on 68 carries, caught 25 passes and scored 11 touchdowns.
“We think we got the fastest player in the draft,” general manager Kevin Colbert said.
Kent State calculated that when Archer is going full speed with the ball in his hands, he travels at 19.4 miles per hour — too fast for a school zone.
So how do the Steelers plan to use the small-but-dynamic rookie?
“Playing in the backfield, playing some slot, playing some H-back, playing some fullback and helping the special teams,” he said.
Archer's most immediate contribution could be as a kick returner. He was kicked to only 18 times in his junior and senior seasons but returned four for touchdowns. He averaged 36.9 yards on 16 kickoff returns in 2012.
The Steelers also plan on using him as a punt returner even though he returned only six punts at Kent State to reduce the risk of injury.
“I was small coming out of high school (in Florida). I was about 5-5 and 150, so I was overlooked by a lot of the bigger schools,” Archer said. “I think that's why I play the way I play today, with a chip on my shoulder.”
Archer won't be the only player injecting some speed into a team famously ridiculed by NFL Network analyst Warren Sapp in 2011 for being “old, slow.”
Shazier ran the 40 in 4.38 at Indianapolis, a cornerback-like speed. Wide receiver Martavis Bryant ran a 4.42. Safety Mike Mitchell once ran a 4.36, and wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey ran a 4.30 at the 2009 combine.
“You covet speed, obviously, but football is not a track meet,” coach Mike Tomlin said. “If you get a capable football player who happens to be fast, it's an asset. The speed players we were able to acquire fit the bill.”