Particularly in recent years, the Pittsburgh Steelers tend to try to draft juniors, whether redshirt juniors or true juniors, with a lot of their draft picks, especially the early ones. Often enough, players who come out early have the talent where, if they stayed in for their final season, they would raise their draft stock even higher, so it can represent good value in that sense.
Their 2020 NFL Draft class consisted of five of their six picks being seniors, including three redshirt seniors. The lone player remaining with college eligibility was fourth-round running back Anthony McFarland, who was a redshirt sophomore and had two years of eligibility remaining. I can’t even tell you the last time they drafted a sophomore.
But the Steelers liked what they saw from the running back on tape. In fact, they’ve liked it for a while, as general manager Kevin Colbert said on SiriusXM radio earlier this week. “When our scouts went in there in 2018, he wasn’t draft-eligible. When you go into a school and you’re not scouting somebody and he jumps off the film at you, you remember that, and we did”, he said of McFarland standing out already two years ago.
Following the 2018 season, in the 2019 NFL Draft, you might recall that the Steelers drafted one of McFarland’s linemen, and then signed another as an undrafted free agent. Derwin Gray remains here, spending last season on the practice squad, though Damian Prince is long gone.
It wasn’t because of the loss of his linemen that last year was a disappointment, however. “This year was a frustrating year for him because he had to fight through the high ankle sprain”, Colbert reminded. “He made the decision to come out; that was his decision. It probably would have benefitted him to stay in because he might have been a higher pick, had he stayed in”.
“We just appreciated his [game]. He’s got a short-area change [of direction] that turns into a 30-, 40-, 50-yard gain pretty quick because of his speed. He’s not just a fast guy. He’s got short-area quickness that can create fast running lanes, and he can finish”.
McFarland does bring something that is almost unique to the Steelers’ running back room. They do have Kerrith Whyte, who has similar speed, though he lacks the size of the Maryland product, who can also run with physicality and break tackles through contact.
Though it can be argued that they didn’t need running back depth, bringing in somebody who can provide a different dimension—assuming of course that he works out—should be an asset. And the fact that they were already interested in him two years ago, before he was even eligible for the draft, is I think another comfort, even if a small one.