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 return kicks in 2020.
Explanation: Even though he only returned one kick in college, McFarland did receive practice work as a returner, and his former coach vouched for his return ability. JuJu Smith-Schuster didn’t have much college experience as a returner before doing so in 2017. Their current incumbent kick returners are Ryan Switzer and Kerrith Whyte.
Neither Ryan Switzer nor Kerrith Whyte are roster locks, and in fact, the presence of McFarland makes it a lot less likely that Whyte is able to make the team. Signed toward the end of last season, he took over the kick return job, though he didn’t exactly put up great numbers, even if he flashed breakaway potential that never broke.
McFarland is a very similar player who has comparable speed but a bigger build that should be intriguing in that phase of the game. Switzer has had about a year and a half to show any kind of spark as a returner and has not done so, so it’s hard to make the case for giving him that role back based on merit.
Seriously, Switzer’s longest kick return was just 35 yards. He averaged 19.8 yards per kick return between 2018 and 2019 on 39 returns.
For as much as virtually everybody is down on Ryan Switzer, there is still reason to believe the Steelers like him more than the fanbase does. And McFarland has virtually no meaningful experience as a kick returner at all. Literally one return of any kind during his college career. Even Smith-Schuster had comparatively much more work.
We don’t even know what the offseason is going to be like when it comes to on-field work. McFarland will be having enough trouble just getting himself adjusted to life in the NFL that it’s difficult to forecast him having both an offensive and a special teams role. Granted, Whyte was able to do that even after being signed on the practice squad, but at least he had a full offseason with the Bears, and he was a seasoned kick returner in college with a 26.1-yard average and two touchdowns on 81 returns. It’s just as likely that Whyte remains on the team as a returner as it is that McFarland is the returner.