It’s been just 10 days since the 2016 NFL Draft wrapped up in Chicago, but general manager Doug Whaley and the Buffalo Bills were back to making moves Tuesday afternoon as the team announced it was awarded Dri Archer off of waivers.
The Bills hosted offensive lineman Matt Slauson on a free agent visit last week, but the former Bear wound up signing a two-year contract with the San Diego Chargers following his trip to Orchard Park.
With one spot left to be filled on the 90-man roster, there was little doubt that Whaley would bring in another player in the near future.
But, following Slauson’s recent visit, one would figure that spot would be filled with another offensive lineman. Right?
How about a 5-foot-8, 173-pound speedster who has yet to find a true position in the NFL through his first two seasons in the league?
Enter running back/return specialist Dri Archer.
A third-round pick by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2014 NFL Draft, Archer spent his first year-and-a-half in the league with Pittsburgh before being cut by the team on Nov. 5.
Archer stayed a free agent for the remainder of last season before being signed to a future/reserve contract with the New York Jets on Feb. 3.
However, following last week’s draft, the Jets decided to move on from the former Kent State standout as they released Archer on Monday.
Whaley and company thought enough of the former Steeler draft pick to put a waiver claim in and were subsequently awarded the rights to his contract.
He’ll turn 25 in August.
Drafted out of Kent State with the 97th overall pick in 2014, Dri Archer came into the league with plenty of buzz surrounding his name after posting the second-fastest 40-yard dash time in NFL Combine history at 4.26 seconds.
Arizona running back Chris Johnson is the only player to record a faster time as he ran a 4.24 in 2008.
In his four seasons at Kent State, Archer racked up 2,342 rushing yards (7.2 YPC), 1,194 receiving yards (12.1 YPC), 1,436 kickoff return yards (28.2 avg.) and 40 total touchdowns.
Archer’s best season came in 2012 when he posted 1,429 rushing yards (9.0 YPC), 561 receiving yards (14.4 YPC), 591 kickoff return yards and 23 total touchdowns — a single-season school record for Kent State.
After piling up those impressive numbers, the Laurel, Fla., native was named the 2012 MAC Special Teams Player of the Year, and also earned First Team All-MAC honors as both a running back and a kick returner.
He was simply a jack-of-all-trades.
Coupling Archer’s blazing speed with his stellar production in college, it seemed as if the former Golden Eagle would find a way to get it done in the pros.
However, despite his success at Kent State and at the NFL Combine, Archer has been unable to translate his skills to the professional level.
Through his first two seasons, Archer has racked up 40 rushing yards (4.0 YPC), 23 receiving yards (3.3 YPC) and 580 kickoff return yards (22.4 avg.) in 20 career games.
He has yet to score a touchdown.
How Does Dri Archer Fit in Buffalo?
Despite his slight struggles thus far in his NFL career, Dri Archer possesses something that no coach can teach — speed.
And, boy does Doug Whaley love speed.
Even after selecting TCU wide receiver Kolby Listenbee in the 6th round of this year’s draft, Whaley couldn’t resist Archer’s quickness.
Unlike his new teammates Marquise Goodwin and Listenbee, Archer has proven that he can translate his speed and quickness to kickoff returns.
In limited action last season, Archer racked up 354 return yards on 14 attempts for an average of 25.3 yards per return, which ranked 22nd in the NFL last season according to ESPN.
With that in mind, it’s easy to see that Archer can contribute on special teams, particularly in an area the Bills have struggled with in recent years.
Last season, Buffalo ranked 18th in total return yards.
However, the team’s average on kickoff returns was a measly 18.8 yards, which was tied for the second-worst in the NFL.
Switching between Marcus Thigpen, Boom Herron, Denarius Moore and Walt Powell, the Bills were unable find a steady presence on returns last season after Thigpen appeared to have a strong hold on that position in 2014.
As a result of the lack of production at that position, the Bills were wise to bring in a player like Dri Archer.
Although the depth chart may be crowded at running back, it’s thin at the return spots.
And, as it stands now, Archer appears to be a top competitor to fill that role in 2016 along with Goodwin, Listenbee, Powell and Javier Arenas.
If Archer can display the type of speed and playmaking ability that made him a third-round pick in 2014, then he might have found a home in Orchard Park.
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