It seems to me that for many fans, the rookie for the Pittsburgh Steelers that they are actually most excited about was drafted on day three, that being fourth-round running back Anthony McFarland, picked up out of Maryland this year—one of two Terrapins taken in the draft, and three in the last two drafts.
While their 2019 numbers might not show it, the Steelers are theoretically deep at the running back position. Before they even drafted McFarland, they retained five running backs who finished the 2019 season on the 53-man roster. Since training camp opened, they also signed veteran Wendell Smallwood to bring them to seven backs.
James Conner is on the top of the depth chart, naturally, and most surely see second-year Benny Snell as a lock as well. McFarland is safe as a rookie fourth-round pick who needs development, but whether or not they feel the need to carry four may be determined based on what they see from the rookie. So what has Conner seen?
“I’ve been in the room with Anthony McFarland, and he’s been doing awesome so far”, he told Missi Matthews during an Instagram Live session answering fan-submitted questions. “He looks real good. He’s so fast, and he’s picking up protection and route concepts, so he’s making a lot of progress in the short amount of time that he’s been here. He’s gonna be a playmaker for us”.
Despite his small body of work at the collegiate level—he only played two seasons and left the school with two years of eligibility remaining—and the limited touches that he got when he did play, McFarland’s skill set offers intrigue, especially when considered within the Steelers’ running back room.
Conner and Snell are two backs largely cut from the same cloth. Neither of them are going to break away often. The same with Jaylen Samuels. Trey Edmunds certainly isn’t, either.
Kerrith Whyte, who spent the final six games of the 2019 season with the team, also has speed similar to McFarland’s, but he does it on a much smaller frame. The latter has a bigger build, which likely is conducive to a greater variety of assignments that you could ask of him.
The bottom line is that he adds a speed dimension to the backfield that the Steelers have not reliably had as a weapon for some time—perhaps since Rashard Mendenhall, who posted a 4.45-second 40-yard dash, and posted five runs of 40-plus yards in his career, including a 50-yard overtime walkoff run against the Atlanta Falcons in 2010. He had 29 explosive runs and 10 explosive receptions during his career. And they’re hoping McFarland can offer similar juice.