Having good relationships with coaches at the college level is an integral part of the scouting process for NFL teams, even if it can be a double-edged sword. While you will get honest evaluations of players, you may also be more subject to their inherent bias that favors the young men that they have been coaching.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have and have had a lot of ties to the Maryland Terrapins program, and especially given the conditions of the year, it wasn’t terribly surprising that they ended up drafting two players from there, with running back Anthony McFarland being the earlier pick in round four.
Maryland head coach Mike Locksley recently spoke to Missi Matthews for the team’s website about what it means to see the Steelers draft two of his players, and he also spoke about both of them individually. In particular, he seemed to want to dispel the perception that McFarland is a complementary piece.
“Sometimes he gets put into a box of just being a situational player”, he told Matthews. “Having had him a year he has shown over and over that he has more value than that. He proved that to us here. We ran between tackles. He has done short yardage. He has the ability to do both”.
He acknowledged that McFarland is on the smaller side of the scale, but maintained that he is big enough, and has the strength and balance to get the job done. He of course emphasized the running back’s speed, which is clearly his greatest asset. And though he didn’t do it a lot in college, he also wanted to make it clear that he can affect the passing game.
“He also can be a receiver out of the backfield, which so many teams take advantage of that matchup with running backs in the passing game”, he said. He added that he’s known McFarland since he was in seventh grade, and that he did a lot of receiving in high school. “Having him in our system, and the way it was installed, the system fit Anthony’s skill set and what we do with the running backs in the run and pass game and added value to his game”.
The Steelers use their running backs as passing targets about as much as most teams do. James Conner took on a far larger role in the passing game than he had in college, as did Le’Veon Bell before him, and DeAngelo Williams in between in comparison to his professional career prior. And of course they drafted Jaylen Samuels.
I have no doubt that Pittsburgh is excited about swinging the ball out to McFarland and giving him open-field opportunities to make plays. But for Locksley, he is convinced you can also give him the ball and he’ll run it between the tackles and continue to make plays.