It's always fun seeing Dri Archer's name pop up on social media. 99% of the time it is in a negative context.
And rightfully so: Archer was a third round draft pick with blazing speed who was never able to materialize into a contributor on the Steelers offense. The hope was that he could be something special, but that bright light which flashed early burned out as time went on.
It was easy to get excited about Archer's potential. His 4.26 40-yard dash was at the time the 2nd fastest in combine history. He was referred to as "lightning in a bottle" and "a threat to score anytime he has the ball in his hands."
Fast forward to now and people refer to a different type of bottle when discussing Archer. He's a forgotten man, who after being cut from the Steelers, and a brief stint with the Jets, disappeared. Dri never even showed up for practice despite being claimed by the Buffalo Bills.
When I see people argue that Archer is one of the worst Steeler picks in recent memory, it's hard to argue. You don't often find consensus on social media, but everyone seems to be in agreement when discussing how useless Archer was. It hurts even more when looking at some of the players drafted after Archer. One name that stands out, taken six picks later, is DeVonta Freeman. He is coming off of a 1,079-yard season with the Atlanta Falcons.
A further look down the list, however, shows a name that Steelers fans are very familiar with: Ross Cockrell. For those who don't know Cockrell's story, he was selected in the fourth round the same year by the Buffalo Bills. He appeared in seven games his rookie season before the team decided to release him prior to the start of 2015 season. Cockrell would clear waivers and sign with the Steelers. Despite being a fresh face on the roster with no training camp or preseason experience in Pittsburgh, Cockrell would play 15 games, starting in seven of them, in 2015. His role expanded in 2016 as the cornerback became a starter for all 16 of the Steelers regular season games.
Despite never being a flashy player, Cockrell has been an underrated player and a reliable presence in the Steelers secondary.
Jason McCourty is meeting with the Browns today. He was top 10 at corner in the NFL at limiting yards after catch pic.twitter.com/NVH7Oq3Yah
— Eliot Crist (@EliotCrist) May 16, 2017
Along with those impressive numbers, Cockrell was ranked by Pro Football Focus as one of the Steelers top performing players on defense on more than one occasion during the 2016 season.
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) January 1, 2017
Top-graded Steelers on defense:
1.DE Cameron Heyward, 82.1
2.CB Ross Cockrell, 76.8
3.S Jordan Dangerfield, 76.6
4.OLB James Harrison, 74.8
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) October 3, 2016
So what is the point of all the tweets above?
It's simple: in a way, Ross Cockrell redeems the Steelers for drafting Dri Archer. When everyone wanted the team to focus on defense, they went with a luxury pick at a position of little need, whereas, it's likely Cockrell was on the Steelers draft board at the time. He was a pre-draft visitor prior to the draft, a usual sign of interest for a team.
Had things played out differently, the Steelers may have selected him. Had they done so, the Dri Archer debate would be non-existent. It may be a stretch to think that the selection of Archer can be redeemed, but the Steelers getting Cockrell acts as a mulligan. Often we play out "what if" scenarios but seldom do teams ever get a "do over". In this situation, the Steelers received a player they were interested in, who was taken 12 picks after their selection; and they did so at little-to-no-cost.
Not only did the Steelers get their guy (Cockrell) but they got someone who has grown to be a significant contributor. Steeler fans may have clouded memories, but when Cockrell arrived in town the Steelers had Antwon Blake starting at cornerback. Blake - who now goes by Valentino, and apparently plays for the Giants, has been named one of the worst cornerbacks in the league on more than one occasion.
According to @PFF, Antwon Blake allowed the most yds by a CB in coverage 1028 in NFL history with 28 missed tackles
— Bob Pompeani (@KDPomp) January 5, 2016
The presence of Cockrell helped stabilize the Steelers secondary. Without him, it's terrifying to think how much worse their secondary could've been that year. The story of Dri Archer still stings, but having Cockrell helps soften the blow.
Call me an optimist, but I like to think that in a way the Archer saga all worked out in the end.