Dri Archer

Sunday’s game between the Steelers and Raiders shed even more light on an issue that has been discussed, lamented, and in retrospect, perhaps overblown on a weekly basis.

No, I’m not talking about the offense without the combination of Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell, Martavis Bryant, Kelvin Beachum and Maurkice Pouncey.

No, I’m not talking about Mike Tomlin’s clock management.

I’m talking about the lack of production from the kick return team and the now-dispatched Dri Archer in favor of Jacoby Jones.

Or is it only a perceived lack of production?

Head coach Mike Tomlin admitted earlier in the season that it was as much of a problem with the other 10 men in the unit as it was with Archer, and Alex Kozora from Steelers Depot broke down some of those specific issues with the return unit’s blocking.

Yet despite the evidence to the contrary, the popular sentiment was that Archer himself was the problem and he had to go. But what we learned on Sunday was that even though Archer is gone, not much has changed at all with the kick return situation.

Let’s break down the numbers and figure out why.

First off, the Steelers as a team are averaging 24.2 yards per kick return, slightly more than the league average of 23.7 and tied with the Jacksonville Jaguars for 15th among the league’s 32 teams. So not only are the Steelers not terrible at returning kicks, they’re actually better than half the league.

Just for fun: do you know who three of the worst teams in kick return average are? The New England Patriots (16.4 – last), Carolina Panthers (19.0 – 30th), and Cincinnati Bengals (20.5 – 29th.), the league’s three remaining undefeated teams.

Doesn’t sound that important after all, does it?

Anyway, like I was saying… Archer — the designated whipping boy for these perceived (yet not actual) failures — is tied for 33rd in the league with 25.3 yards per return. Two of the players he’s tied with: New England’s Danny Amendola and Tennessee’s Dexter McCluster.

It’s also worth noting Archer averaged only a tenth of a yard less than Seattle Seahawks rookie Tyler Lockett, who has the same exact number of returns, but also a 105-yard touchdown to his credit.

Now Archer being tied for 33rd in the entire league might seem like it proves the point of how bad he is to some people, but let’s look at some of the returners with lower averages: Cordarrelle Patterson (Minnesota Vikings, 24.8), Jarvis Landry (Miami Dolphins, 24.7), De’Anthony Thomas (Kansas City Chiefs, 23.0) and oh yeah, by the way, Jacoby Jones (21.2).

Here are the yardage numbers from Archer’s 14 returns this season (in chronological order): 22, 31, 30, 32, 22, 15, 35, 17, 38, 23, 30, 25, 15, and 19.

Now let’s look at the yardage from Jones’ 13 combined returns this season (nine with the San Diego Chargers, four in Pittsburgh): 24, 30, 21, 14, 20, 20, 21, 21, 22, 16, 23, 24, and 20.

What the numbers show us is that not only was Archer not as bad as a returner as he was perceived to be, but the Steelers got rid of him to bring in another player who had a worse return average and had been put on waivers by his previous team.

Was Dri Archer a reach as a third-round draft pick? Yes.

Did he have any value to the Steelers as a running back (or at least a player that could contribute in some way to the offense?) No.

But is he to blame for the Steelers’ performance (or falsely perceived lack thereof) on kick returns? No.

And we learned this week that problem obviously hasn’t been fixed yet without him. In fact, it might have just gotten worse.

Be careful what you wish for.

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Posted in Sports Talk Radio