There isn’t much else to do while we sit here and wait for news about whether or not there will even be training camp, so it seems as good a time as any to bring back this series, in which we look to introduce some of the new players that the Pittsburgh Steelers have added to the mix since the end of the 2019 season.
The team added some notable pieces in free agency, which was important, because they didn’t have much to work with in terms of draft capital due to previous trades. They also made liberal use of the XFL’s closure, signing about as many players from there as the rest of the league combined. Even while claiming that they didn’t have a lot of roster room, they still signed a good number of rookie college free agents as well, enough that they had to release three players just to make room for them.
The first selection on day three of the 2020 NFL Draft for the Pittsburgh Steelers went back to the offensive skill positions by picking up Anthony McFarland, a stout and quick running back out of Maryland. It was the fourth time in as many years that they came out of the first five years with first a wide receiver (in this case, Chase Claypool) and then a running back.
Like Claypool, though, McFarland adds a different dimension to the backfield. Whereas Claypool has great size in terms of both height and weight, McFarland brings a speed dimension to the backfield that nobody else on the roster can duplicate, at least in the same way.
Kerrith Whyte, a second-year back whom the Steelers picked up with six games left to play last season, is also a quick runner, but he is not built the way McFarland is. The latter is stronger and more powerful, more built for a traditional rather than specialized role.
Of course, McFarland isn’t stepping into a situation in which the pressure will be put on him. The Steelers have three more veteran backs already ahead of him, starting with Pro Bowler James Conner, who when healthy can be a top-10 running back in the NFL as a complete player.
Even if he gets hurt, they still have Benny Snell entering his second season (and likely slimmer) and a healthier Jaylen Samuels, who was bothered by a knee injury last season and likely played a role in his awfully inefficient year. Remember, Samuels was a surprisingly elusive player with the ball in his hands as a rookie. That can’t have suddenly disappeared. He can do better than last year.
So the story with McFarland is just finding where he fits in. He is a big-play threat that the rest of the room lacks, so he will have a complementary role while others do the heavy lifting. He’ll have the opportunity to earn more over time. And he will have the opportunity, perhaps, to compete to be the starting kick returner as well.