After his spectacular junior season where he and Travion Durham were able to lead the Kent State Golden Flashes to a big year and a bowl berth, Dri Archer had a relatively disappointing year, because of injuries that dogged him all year. Nevertheless, in spite of the drop in production, Archer did address weaknesses in his game that could have hurt him had he declared after last year and should ultimately make him a better, more viable player as he heads to the NFL now.
Head Coach Paul Haynes deserves credit for putting Archer in positions to work on what he needed to improve in the NFL; namely giving him opportunities to flourish as a receiver, both out wide and in the slot in addition to being a running back and returner.
Going to the NFL, Archer is an intriguing space player that can contribute as a running back, slot receiver or returner on special teams that should be able to help a team immediately. He is the type of player that a team should draft and find ways to get him the ball around five to ten times per game between those three areas. Archer has improved significantly as a route runner and worked on becoming a better punt returner and while there is a small chance that Archer could sneak into the top 100, he looks like a really nice potential value for a team picking on day three of the draft.
Vitals & Build
Archer measured 5’8” 173lbs at the combine with 31” arms and 8 7/8” hands. Despite his diminutive size, Archer has a long wingspan. Although he is never going to be regarded as being overly powerful because of his size, Archer has demonstrated an impressive amount of strength, highlighted by putting up 20 reps on the bench at the combine.
The hallmarks for Archer are ultimately his elite speed, agility and body control. He has the straight line speed to run with anyone, but he can control it and change directions without losing much, making him look faster on the field. The only thing that hurts Archer aside from his size is the fact that he has to be close to maxed out physically. Archer may get a little stronger, may get a little better in certain areas, but he is largely what he is going to be, which is nevertheless a spectacular athlete.
Archer is a speed back with great agility, the ability to cut, stop and start and make guys miss in the open field almost at will. He has demonstrated impressive vision and a great feel for what is going on around him, even behind him as a runner. Archer has elite quickness and what he does goes beyond simply being elusive. He is extremely difficult to track down. While he is not a guy who is going to break many tackles from guys who can get two hands on him, he will break arm tackles of guys trying to grab anything in hopes of slowing him down.
Archer demonstrates good balance and reacts well off of contact, being able to adjust and continue running effectively after shaking a mediocre tackling effort. Archer is a player who is always a threat to score with great acceleration and a ton of speed. Archer is not simply fast for a player in the MAC; he is fast, period and can run with anyone as one of the fastest players in all of college football.
Archer trusts what he sees and is a patient runner willing to wait for holes to present themselves but when he goes, he is decisive and attacks the hole full speed. He is not afraid to run in between the tackles but has a disadvantage there because of his size, which could be an issue in the NFL, and while teams can run him there to keep defenses honest, he is a much bigger threat on the outside and in space.
Archer is not afraid to use moves or make a move anywhere on the field, even in the middle of a pile, which can be a great quality behind good run blocking who block through the whistle. He has the Barry Sanders quality of being able to confuse his own lineman and cause his teammates to hold at times because he is so unpredictable in how he runs. Archer is not afraid to go backwards and cut back on occasion but for the most part, he does a good job of being smart and having good instincts on what he can get away with and what he cannot. He has a good sense of anticipation and where pressure is going to be coming from and can set up defensive players who are several yards in front of him and beat them without ever really having to beat them in addition to making good use of his blockers.
Lastly, Archer is a guy who is not down until the whistle blows and there have been multiple examples where defenders assumed he was down, let up, and he kept going to score a touchdown. His height is an advantage there as he is close to the ground, has a low center of gravity, and great body control in addition to the fact he can hide behind his linemen at times.
Touches are going to be a key issue with Archer and how many he can get as a running back will be important. Archer’s high over the past two seasons had been 18 carries and especially his senior year showed how important it is to keep a light workload and enable him to play at full strength as long as possible.
Route Running & Technique
This was an area where Archer has improved significantly over the past year. As a junior, he worked far more on his athleticism and simply trying to outrun opponents. In his senior year, there was far more attention to detail, working to win with cuts, sinking his hips better and selling routes. Whereas last year Archer looked like a running back trying to be a receiver, this year he looked far more the part of actually playing the position. He can work to get better with how quickly he is able to plant his foot and transition his weight, but with more experience and understanding the nuances of the position, he can continue to get better.
Archer has gotten much better in how he frames the ball and is able to catch it. He has gotten much more confident and effective at catching the ball with his hands and snatching it away from his body.
His catch radius is relatively small and given that he does not have much of a reach, that is going to need to improve. Right now, he is putting a decent amount of impetus on the quarterback to deliver the ball accurately, but he just needs as many reps as he can get in this area. This improved over the course of the season and he caught the ball extremely confidently at his Pro Day, supporting the idea that with more reps, he will continue to improve.
The other issue that is a problem with opportunities and a need for reps is tracking the ball, especially when the ball is high or over his head down the field. Most of the passes that Archer has caught have been flat passes of around 5-10 yards that would sometimes go a little longer. He was able to see the ball come out of the quarterback’s hand and adjust to it easily.
Where Archer has had some issues is when he has to go get the ball or when he has to find it, tracking the ball in the air. Again, he simply has not had that many opportunities, but there have been examples where he has dropped passes or he lost the ball in the air.
Run After Catch
Wherever Archer gets the ball, once he catches it cleanly, he immediately becomes a huge threat. The advantage is that when he is able to catch the ball out wide or down the field, he is already beyond some number of defenders and is not tasked with beating all eleven. After he catches the ball, he immediately goes into the mindset of a runner, takes advantage of blocks and is an aggressive ball carrier and someone who is always a threat to score.
Archer has been a great kick returner and will certainly get to stand back there to watch the ball go out of the end zone, but this was the year he really worked to add punt returning to his game. His agility and speed make him ideal for it and he has certainly put in work to become a punt returner, with NFL teams specifically looking at him for that part of his game.
The issue for Archer that will come with continued reps and coaching is that he just needs to catch the ball with better technique. The more able he is to track and get in position to the catch the ball, he can have the time to set up, put his elbows together and catch the ball down in front of his chest. The better he gets at it, the more securely and confidently he can catch the ball and then scare opponents with his electric running ability.
There is no question Archer has the game breaking ability to be a dynamic returning threat. He has had a ton of success as a kick returner and punt returning is more chaotic, but in some respects, almost more suited to Archer because he is so quick and in many ways, he is unpredictable in how he will react with the ball in his hands.
Archer’s best fit is with a team that knows how to use him. If a team insists on just using him as a running back, they are wasting some of his potential. He is a great space player and if a team can get him the ball around 5-10 times per game in a multitude of ways in space, he can create plays and potentially break open a game.
Archer should be able to contribute immediately and it will just be a matter of how fast he can get accustomed to the speed of the NFL. He should continue to get better as a receiving option with time, but anyone drafting Archer is doing it with the idea that he can contribute this year; it is just a question of how much.
The player that comes to mind with Archer is former Texas Longhorn 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.
Dri Archer has extraordinary speed and agility that has allowed him to be one of the most electrifying runners in college football the last few years. The final year of college allowed Archer to continue working to become a more viable receiving threat and punt returner. While his year was not what he would have liked on the stat sheet, he is a better football player for his hard work and it may ultimately lead to him having a longer, better NFL career. Archer could go in the top 100 to a team that falls in love with the amount he can do for their offense, but he seems like a really nice value on day three for a team that has a good understanding of how to use him.
Some of the film used in this scouting breakdown was provided by the good folks at draftbreakdown.com