During the Steelers’ first preseason game Dri Archer took a screen pass from Ben Roethlisberger 46 yards before being tackled. That happened on the game’s opening series. Archer was playing with the starters and in fact appeared in a play during the only series that Roethlisberger played. The other notable thing about the play was that starting RB Le’Veon Bell was also on the field at the same time.
There are a million ways that overreacting to preseason games can go wrong. One of the safe havens though is using preseason action to look at players that might not be on your radar yet. I was not on Archer at all until I saw that he was getting action with the starters and also that his snaps compared to Bell’s are not a zero sum game. That’s a sample of one play, which I guess is ridiculous.
But let’s look at the case for Archer being the best risk reward among the undersized/just get the ball in his hands group. We also call these players Offensive Weapons, or OWs.
Here’s a table which shows Archer along with some other guys that I think fit in roughly the same physical group.
|Name||Height||Weight||Hands||40 Time||Bench Press||Vertical Leap||Broad Jump||3 Cone||SS|
|Dri Archer||5′ 8″||173||8⅞”||4.26||20||38″||122″||6.86||4.06|
|Dexter McCluster||5′ 9″||172||8⅜”||4.53||20||37½”||118″||4.06|
|Percy Harvin||5′ 11″||192||9⅜”||4.39||19||37½”||121″|
|Brandin Cooks||5′ 9¾”||189||9⅝”||4.33||16||36″||120″||6.76||3.81|
|Tavon Austin||5′ 8″||174||9⅛”||4.34||14||32″||120″||4.01|
While Archer is in the group of smaller players that also includes Tavon Austin and Dexter McCluster, he’s probably pretty easily the most athletic of any of the players in this table. He’s the fastest, tied with McCluster in bench press reps, and has the best explosion numbers.
Below is a table that shows Archer’s college production compared to the other OWs.
It’s worth noting that Archer, Austin and McCluster all played four years of college football, while Cooks and Harvin played just three. It’s also fair to say that Archer has the worst resume as a receiver. But he has a resume as a receiver, which is important.
While Archer is the least accomplished receiver, all of the players averaged around 100 touches per year that they played. The fact that Archer compiled fewer total yards would be expected considering that his production was weighted to rushing attempts.
Another point that is somewhat related to Archer’s prospect-ness is that he does have the lowest draft pedigree of the OWs that we’re looking at. In some sense that’s meaningful. But if you assume that the others were over-drafted, and I think Cooks is the only one that the jury is still out on in that regard1, then it could be the case that Archer was just the only one that was correctly valued in the draft.
Fantasy Draft Cost
Now that you know Archer is the most athletic among the OWs and he has experience as a receiver, let’s bring it back to his ADP so you can see what a bargain he could be.
|Player||Positional ADP||Overall ADP|
|Dri Archer||RB81||>20th round|
Not only is Archer the absolute cheapest, but he might also have the most relative value. When I say that I mean that if he sees 15% of the Steelers targets as a running back, that’s valuable due to positional scarcity.
But could he see 15% of the Steelers targets?
Here’s a heatmap which shows the percentages of team targets that McCluster, Austin, and Harvin have accounted for during their careers (reTRGMS).
It’s definitely not a lock that Archer could see 15 percent of the PIT targets, considering that Todd Haley also had McCluster as a rookie and that led to only 13 percent of team targets. But 15 percent is certainly in the discussion considering that Tavon Austin saw 17 percent of STL targets in a very disappointing rookie season. It’s also in the discussion considering that Archer had two receptions in the first half of a preseason game (and again, one of them was from Roethlisberger).
Todd Haley and the New Look Steelers
I think it’s fair to say at this point that Todd Haley probably has an unrequited love for Offensive Weapons. He was the head coach of the Chiefs when they drafted McCluster, then apparently didn’t consider that a failed experiment because he’s now coordinating an offense that looks like it could feature Dri Archer. To Haley’s credit, it’s possible that Archer might be missing the very thing that could have made McCluster successful, which is long speed. McCluster is slow for a player of his size. In fact, I have a tough time figuring out how the “get the ball in his hands” set can really succeed if they don’t have long speed to make defenses pay. Archer has long speed to spare.
But I don’t think the case for Archer ends with Haley’s love for OWs. If you look at the Steelers recent draft picks they paint the picture of a team that is trying to become more dynamic. They used their RB selection last year not on a plodding two down runner, but on the accomplished receiver Le’Veon Bell. Then the Steelers broke their streak of drafting undersized receivers by selecting Martavis Bryant in the 4th round in 2014. That followed their selection of Archer in the 3rd round.
If you add the selections which make it possible for the Steelers to be more dynamic, to the increased lip service paid to the no-huddle offense, it really does become fair to expect more out of the PIT offense in 2014. This excerpt is from a recent story on the no-huddle:
Previous coaches such as Bruce Arians talked a good game when it came to the no-huddle, but, for one reason or another, would not commit to it. Haley did that in the second half of last season, and it produced all kinds of benefits, including many fewer sacks of Roethlisberger, a better run game and more victories.
Roethlisberger spoke to his offensive coaches and head coach Mike Tomlin about it after the season.
“The no-huddle was always in, but it was always sitting back here on the back burner — keep it warm for Week 5 or 6 or whenever we needed it, if we needed it.
Let’s Wrap It Up
Because Archer is RB eligible, if he’s able to see 15% of the team targets and catch around 64 passes or so, he could be a viable flex starter. That assumption doesn’t even require penciling him in for a bunch of big plays, which he’s capable of producing. Last year a running back with 125 fantasy points would have been in the RB40 range in PPR leagues. Archer could get there just with receptions and receiving yards, with no credit given for touchdowns. He’s currently being drafted as RB80. You might say that Archer wouldn’t be startable most weeks even if he finishes as RB40 and that’s true. But we haven’t even given him any credit for rushing yardage, rushing touchdowns, or receiving touchdowns. Those are difficult to predict, especially for a player that will see somewhat limited touches. But I think that finishing the season as RB30 is possible – bordering on not crazy.
This table is a matrix that shows how many WRs and RBs exceeded certain fantasy point thresholds in 2013.
# of Players that Exceed Fantasy Point Threshold by Position
You can see that if Archer were to compile 130 fantasy points (PPR) at WR, there are 54 WRs in front of him. But at RB there are only 35. He has more value because of that eligibility.
Does any of this make Archer the Offensive Weapon to own in 2014?
While I think there is a case to be made for Dexter McCluster, Archer is both cheaper and probably has more total upside.
So does Archer offer better risk/reward than the receivers? Tavon Austin isn’t listed as a starting WR in STL, so he might be relegated to the same gadget role that Archer is slated for. In the case of Percy Harvin the team’s interests almost have to be to preserve him, while fantasy owners want to see him targeted until the wheels fall off. Cooks is really the only receiver that I’m even on the fence on when the question is whether he’ll return more value in 2014. But in Cooks’ part of the fantasy draft I still plan to be taking receivers that are their teams’ top option.
When everyone else is falling over themselves to get OWs, I’ll just draft guys that will lead their teams in targets. Then when everyone else is drafting handcuffs, I’ll take an OW that might get me points every week. So yes, Dri Archer is my preferred OW in 2014.
Also, this was all based on about one preseason play and could easily change. So there’s that.
- half of you are writing me a strongly worded letter on Percy Harvin right now even though he’s more sizzle than steak (back)