While fans should always be urged to approach the purchasing of a rookie’s jersey with caution, there is always a wave of sales to embrace some of their favorite new players. So when rookie jerseys are announced, it is something that at least some people meet with some enthusiasm.
Of course, the numbers rookies take now are not finalized, and could change once they make the 53-man roster, assuming that they do. For now, for example, fourth-round running back Anthony McFarland chose the number 26—which, while last year was worn by Mark Barron, is better known in recent years as being associated with Le’Veon Bell, and that wasn’t by coincidence.
“I’ve always been a big fan of Le’Veon Bell”, he told reporters yesterday. “He’s always been the best running back in the league to me, ever since I’ve been watching him when I was in college, when I was in high school. He’s just always been a top back in the league and one of my favorites”.
A second-round pick by the Steelers in 2013, he was immediately installed as the starter a year after they trudged through a campaign featuring Isaac Redman, Jonathan Dwyer, and an on-his-last-legs Rashard Mendenhall, with some cameos by Chris Rainey.
The following year would be his breakout season, a first-team All-Pro campaign in which he exceeded 2000 yards from scrimmage, setting a new team record with 2215. He rushed for 1361 yards and gained another 854 on receptions, totaling 11 touchdowns.
Injuries would begin to add up, but he would return to All-Pro status in 2017 with a comparable season nearing 2000 yards from scrimmage, and 11 scores. The next year, he would not report under a second franchise tag, and then signed with the New York Jets in free agency, badmouthing the organization and former teammates like Ben Roethlisberger on his way out the door.
The number he really wanted, though, was 25, which was the number his college teammate, Antoine Brooks, both wore in college and took first. If Brooks should not make the team, one wonders if McFarland might not grab it.
“Just thinking about numbers, I was just, I wanted to get 25, but I know ‘Toine wanted that number, so I just really wanted to get 26”, he said. “I didn’t want people to think it was anything like, ‘oh, be better than Le’Veon’. That’s not the type of person I am. If anything, it would be, I look up to him, I idolize Le’Veon Bell. I watch his game, I study his film. That’s somebody who’s been a great back in the league for a long time. So that wasn’t meant as disrespect”.
I’m sure some of you are going to groan with him said that he idolized Bell, though he didn’t really give any indications that it also applied to the way he conducted his off-field business. On the field, nobody can deny the great success that he had in Pittsburgh. He averaged more yards per game than any other player in NFL history heading into the 2019 season, with 7996 in 62 games.