Photo by Rachael Le Goubin / The Kent Stater
If you only know Dri Archer from his Google results, chances are you?d think he was dead.
The first Google autofill results are pretty innocuous, and, honestly, fitting.
?Dri Archer 40 time? ? he ran a 4.24 40-yard dash at the NFL combine in 2014, then the second-fastest in NFL history.
?Dri Archer Kent State? ? He spent four years at Kent State and recorded over 3,500 yards from scrimmage.
?Dri Archer net worth? ? He signed a four-year $2.748 million contract with the Pittsburgh Steelers as a rookie.
But the further down you get, the more Archer?s fate looks to be sealed.
?Dri Archer death?
?Dri Archer cause of death?
?Dri Archer dead or alive?
?What happened to Dri Archer?
Well, I can tell you what happened to Dri Archer.
First off, he?s not dead. Far from it. But in a sense, it?s understandable that someone would think he fell into a hole somewhere, never to be heard from again. On Sept. 3, 2015 Archer?s final NFL carry came, a one-yard rush against the Carolina Panthers where his feet slipped out from underneath him, a fitting end to a career that never truly got its footing.
Dri Archer?s career has always been one based around speed. He?s always been the fastest player on the field, something that was evident to Jerry McManus. McManus was the running backs coach at Kent State in 2007 when he first watched Dri Archer?s high school tape. McManus and the Kent State staff was looking for a running back that could serve as a kind of ?home run hitter.?
Archer, a junior at Venice high school in Venice, Florida, looked like he could be that home run hitter.
?Once he got the secondary, nobody was going to catch him,? McManus said. ?We got to look into them. But at the time he wasn?t the biggest guy.?
But it wasn?t always like that for Archer. His freshman year he was a 4-foot-8 98 pound running back who didn?t see the field much. His sophomore year he didn?t play. When he returned to the football field his junior year, he was 5-foot-2 120 pounds. Not exactly the build of a Division I running back.
The summer before his senior year, however, Archer hit a growth spurt of sorts, filling out at 5-foot-5, 155 pounds. And while his diminutive size was a red flag to some coaches, his speed let coaches overlook it.
?Size was an issue, but he had those qualities of explosion? we?d get them in the weight room, he?s going to get bigger and stronger,? McManus said.
Kent State?s recruitment of Archer started with then-secondary coach Scott Booker, with McManus picking up the recruiting after Booker left for Western Kentucky.
Archer immediately hit it off with McManus and signed his letter of intent with Kent State on Feb. 4, 2009 before officially enrolling in June. Kent State was the only Division I school to offer Archer. The only other school he visited was Charleston Southern, who plays in the Big South.
?I was surprised that none of those schools in Florida even recruited him,? McManus said. ?I kept saying ?I can?t believe that these schools in Florida aren?t recruiting him.? Once he could physically match up to what his ability was that he was going to be a heck of a football player.?
But before Archer even stepped on the field for the Flashes, his time at Kent State almost came to an end.
He was homesick.
A week into his time at Kent State, Archer wanted to go home. But it wasn?t going to be that easy.
?You come home, you?re joining the Army,? Archer?s mother would tell him when he said he wanted to leave Kent. ?You?re not staying at my house.?
Archer was joining a Kent State backfield that featured stud running back Eugene Jarvis. In 2007 (the year that McManus first found Archer?s highlight tape) Jarvis broke out for almost 2,000 all-purpose yards. And while he his numbers took a dramatic dip in 2008 (he rushed for 801 yards on the season) he still looked poised to work with Archer in a dynamic backfield.
Archer?s first two years at Kent State weren?t anything special. He only rushed for 246 yards his freshman year and then somehow took a step back his sophomore year, only rushing for a pedestrian 140 yards.
That all set the stage for his breakout junior year.
In the 98-year history of Kent State football, the Flashes have only been to three postseason bowl games. In 1954 Kent State went 8?2 and lost to Delaware in the Refrigerator Bowl. 18 years later the Flashes went 6?5 and lost to the University of Tampa in the Tangerine Bowl. In that years that followed the Tangerine Bowl loss Kent State football wallowed in anonymity. The Flashes won nine games in 1973 but the winning consistency from those two seasons couldn?t carry over. Between 1973?2012, Kent State finished above .500 five times. In that same time period, the Flashes also had five winless seasons.
But then Dri Archer?s junior season happened. Part of the reason Archer had posted such pedestrian numbers in his first two season at Kent was because he had trouble staying on the field due to injury.
?The big thing for Dri was durability,? McManus said. ?Once he got committed to the weight room and work on his durability that?s when things clicked. He realized that offseason that if he wanted to play Division I football that he needed to get stronger.?
Photo by Hannah Potes / The Kent Stater
Archer?s new explosiveness was on display from day one. In the Flashes? season-opener against Towson Archer recorded two total touchdowns, one of which came on a 98-yard kickoff return. Two weeks later he had his first 100-yard game on the ground in the Flashes? win over Buffalo. Two weeks after that he rushed for 222 yards against Buffalo in a game where he also threw a touchdown pass.
Dri Archer couldn?t stop scoring and Kent State couldn?t stop winning.
In total, Archer scored a touchdown in all but one of Kent State?s 14 games that year. The Flashes? were ranked in the AP top-25 poll for the first time since 1973 (They peaked at No. 18 in the poll, the highest ranking ever in Kent State history). Even with Kent State?s season ending with back-to-back losses in the Mid-American Conference Championship and the Godaddy.com bowl, Archer coming back for his senior season meant that the sky was the limit for the Kent State football team.
But that sky fell Archer?s senior year. While he still posted almost 900 yards from scrimmage, Archer?s signature explosiveness wasn?t there, thanks in part to an ankle injury he sustained in the Flashes? season-opening win against Liberty University. When Archer returned, he wasn?t the same player. While he did score a touchdown in seven straight games in the middle of the Flashes season, he spent most of the year lacking that same breakaway ability that had been so lethal the season prior.
Photo by Brian James Smith / The Kent Stater
The injury also limited his ability in the return game, as he only had two kickoff returns on the year (one of which he returned 100 yards for a touchdown, FWIW). Archer was able to end his season on a high note, however, as he rushed for 153 yards and three touchdowns in his final collegiate game against Ohio.
Now it was Archer?s time to shine in the NFL.
Only four players in NFL history have ran a sub 4.28 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the NFL combine. John Ross, who is currently a wide receiver for the Cincinnati Bengals, ran a 4.22, the fastest in combine history, while Rondel Menendez (a receiver who was drafted in 1999 who never played a snap in the NFL) and Chris Johnson (one of the best running backs of all time) both ran 4.24.
Then there?s Dri Archer.
In 2014, Archer ran a 4.26, the third fastest time in combine history. While there were still some question marks surrounding his ability, his combine time immediately shot him up draft boards across the country.
?I thought he was going to be a second-round draft pick because of his speed and 40 time? said John Peacock, who is the head football coach at Venice high school where he coached Archer.
Peacock?s guess was a round off. Archer was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the third round. In some ways Pittsburgh looked to be the perfect fit for him. Archer was joining one of the most stable organizations in the NFL that also featured depth in the backfield with Le?Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount. Archer didn?t need to be the bellcow for the Steelers, just the perfect changeup back for them.
In his first preseason with the Steelers, Archer totaled 108 yards receiving in four games, showcasing his ability to get open and make things happen with the ball in his hands.
That didn?t carry over to the regular season, however. Archer totaled 63 yards from scrimmage in 2014, 24 of which came the Steelers week four loss to Cleveland. His longest play from scrimmage was a 15 yard catch against the Bengals on Sunday night football.
While he had trouble finding his footing from the line of scrimmage, he did show some moves on the kickoff team, as he averaged 22 yards per return on the season.
Despite this, injuries to Blount and Bell meant that Archer was called upon in the Steelers Wild Card game against the Baltimore Ravens. With 4:49 left in the fourth quarter, it looked like Archer was going to have his day in the sun. With Pittsburgh trailing the Ravens 30?15, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger found Archer out of the backfield on a wheel route.
Archer caught the pass and turned up field towards the end zone, his blistering speed propelling him into the end zone. He crossed the goal line, pointed a hand towards the sky and let out a yell before high-fiving some Steelers fans positioned in the front row.
There was only one problem.
It didn?t count.
Steelers tackle Kelvin Beachum had committed holding on the play, which negated Archer?s touchdown. Three minutes later, Roethlisberger looked Archer?s way again but the pass fell harmlessly to the turf.
It was the last regular season or playoff play of Archer?s career. The next preseason Archer?s numbers dipped significantly from the year before. He only managed 58 yards receiving, and never looked fully comfortable. On Sept. 3, 2015, he took a handoff from Steelers quarterback Landry Jones and slipped on the turf.
It was the last time Dri Archer would touch a football professionally.
On Nov. 5, 2015, the Steelers cut Archer, a quiet end to his disappointing tenure in the black and gold.
The following February he signed with the New York Jets only to be cut three months later. That May he signed with the Buffalo Bills before being cut a week later. Since then, Archer has faded away from public life. He?s now a father, and posts picture of his son on Instagram on a semi-regular basis. He?s posted on Snapchat that he?s rooting for the Golden State Warriors this NBA post-season.
Outside of that, Archer seems to have moved on from the football part of his life. But somewhere out there, there?s someone still playing Madden 16, using his overpowered card in the game?s Ultimate Team mode.
As for Kent State, things didn?t get much better after Archer left. In the five years since he?s been gone, the Flashes have combined to go 10?38. But new coach Sean Lewis and stud quarterback Woody Barrett, you could argue that Kent State football is going through its most optimistic period since Dri Archer blazed through Dix Stadium.
And when Kent State football does put together another winning season, it?s only fair to imagine that the conversation will swing back around to Archer and his magical legs, wherever they are now.