There was some debate as to the positional efficacy of the selection of a running back in the fourth round when other clear needs like safety and defensive tackle went left unaddressed up to that point, but by and large, there really didn’t seem to be a negative opinion about Anthony McFarland out of Maryland as a player.
Even Pro Football Focus appears to be a fan of the young man, and even believes that he has found himself in one of the better running back situations among those who were drafted this year. Michael Renner recently compiled a list of the best situations rookie running backs are stepping into this year, and McFarland was included at the number nine spot. He writes:
McFarland has the benefit of one of the best offensive lines in the NFL — the Steelers finished ninth last year in our rankings and have been perpetually top-10 the past half-decade. The issue will be touches, as the Steelers were the pass-heaviest team in the NFL the last time Ben Roethlisberger was healthy in 2018. Not only that, but backup Jaylen Samuels commanded all of 14 carries when James Conner was healthy.
While he noted that the Steelers’ line ranked ninth in their grading by the end of the year, that grade was primarily based on pass protection. The team as a whole—not specifically just the line—ranked 23rd in run blocking for the site.
It is worth noting just how incredible imbalanced the team was in 2018 the last time Ben Roethlisberger was healthy, but it’s hard to imagine that phenomenon repeating itself. After all, he did throw enough passes to throw for over 5000 yards.
The Steelers are hoping that they have now built a talented running back stable consisting of some combination of James Conner, Benny Snell, Anthony McFarland, Jaylen Samuels, and Kerrith Whyte, with the addition of fullback Derek Watt.
Everyone who matters within the organization has spoken this offseason of the need to improve the run game over last season, even if they have largely fallen back on ‘James will be healthy’ as an antidote. Still, Snell and Samuels—both of whom had knee injuries during the season—will be healthy too. They will have a healthy fullback, and the threat of a passing game. I do believe the running game will be much more effective.
And McFarland will be a part of that for the unique dimension that he can bring, combining a toughness and speed that isn’t found elsewhere on the Steelers’ roster. His dissimilarity to the other backs on the team is another reason that he’s fallen into a good position as a rookie. He seems to be made for that complementary role.