The offseason is inevitably a period of projection and speculation, which makes it the ideal time to ponder the hypotheticals that the Pittsburgh Steelers will face over the course of the next year, whether it is addressing free agency, the draft, performance on the field, or some more ephemeral topic.
That is what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
The range of topics will be intentionally wide, from the general to the specific, from the immediate to that in the far future. And as we all tend to have an opinion on just about everything, I invite you to share your own each morning on the topic statement of the day.
Topic Statement: Running back Anthony McFarland will be the rookie with the biggest impact in 2020.
Explanation: It’s unlikely that any rookie will work his way into a starting lineup—arguably Kevin Dotson is the only one with a real shot at it. Both many can possibly contribute in a rotation, and on special teams.
While there have been some successful rookie seasons from wide receivers in recent years—Mike Wallace, Martavis Bryant, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and most recently, Diontae Johnson just last year—it’s hard to see Chase Claypool having a big impact. Partly because Smith-Schuster and Johnson are still here, ahead of him. As is James Washington. And Eric Ebron is going to eat into the targets as well. Including in the red zone.
McFarland, on the other hand, brings something unique to the running back room, something that will get him on the field. James Conner’s workload will be limited even if he’s healthy, to keep him healthy. Benny Snell is his backup. McFarland is the change-of-pace guy who can do different things and make plays. And he can be a kick returner, too.
Antoine Brooks and Carlos Davis really aren’t even in the discussion. Davis might not make the team. For that matter, Brooks might not make the team. Dotson is competing against two established starters in an offseason that will be limited. Alex Highsmith is behind two starters and adjusting coming from a small school. McFarland is the guy.
Only if he earns it, though. He’s coming into a running back room with a bunch of guys who have experience. Whether you like it or not, they were still playing Jaylen Samuels, especially in the passing game. If he makes the roster, he will play. And McFarland doesn’t have much tape as a receiver, nor barely any as a returner.
Claypool, meanwhile, is somebody the team talked about as adding a dimension to the offense they didn’t have last season. Hint hint, wink wink, nudge nudge. They passed on J.K. Dobbins to get him. They obviously didn’t think they were desperate for help at running back. This kid will play, and on special teams, too.
And there’s always room for pass-rushers. Enter Highsmith. In a rotation, he can easily manage a few sacks, which might be about the equivalent of whatever McFarland produces on a handful of rushing attempts on the bottom of the depth chart.