While rookie Pittsburgh Steelers running back Anthony McFarland’s defining quality as an athlete at his position is his speed, perhaps the thing that gets brought up most after that is his size, and questions over whether or not he is big enough to play in the NFL without limitations as to how much he can be asked to do.
The 5’8” McFarland checks in at 193 pounds, and while he’s no Dri Archer or Chris Rainey, it’s clear that he doesn’t fit the team’s typical prototype of larger backs like James Conner, Benny Snell, Le’Veon Bell, Rashard Mendenhall, and Jonathan Dwyer.
Even collegiately, over two seasons, he only amassed 245 carries and 270 total touches, on both offense and special teams. Part of that limited workload was because of injuries, but he also has only three games in his history in which he recorded more than 16 rushes.
His college coach, Mike Locksley, doesn’t have any concerns about his durability, however. “That is the part of the game when people ask about his toughness, that is what I was pleased to see”, he recently told Teresa Varley for the Steelers’ website. “For a speed guy who relies on that speed, acceleration and change of direction, for his game the worst thing that can happen to a guy like him is a high ankle sprain. It’s tough on a guy like that”.
“He fought through it. He practiced with it. He tried to play on it. We shut him down because we wanted to get him to as close to 100 percent as we could to get the production”, he said of McFarland’s last season. “I was proud to see him fight through it in practice. We gave him a chance to heal, because time is all that helps. But I was pleased to see him fight through it. He had over 100 yards rushing his final game. He got right back to his production once healthy”.
The Maryland back actually declared for the 2020 NFL Draft as a redshirt sophomore, with two years of college eligibility remaining to him. It’s more than plausible that he could have stayed in school for one more year and improved his draft stock from a fourth-round pick, perhaps even considerably.
With the limitations of his body of work, however, he was drafted at the spot where teams were comfortable taking a chance on the uncertainty that he brings. While I’m sure Locksley would have liked to see him stay for another year, however, he has no doubt that the Steelers’ ‘risk’ will be rewarded, both on and off the field, with McFarland.