Now that the 2020 regular season has begun, following a second consecutive season in which they failed to even reach the playoffs, it’s time to take stock of where the Pittsburgh Steelers stand. Specifically where Steelers players stand individually based on what we are seeing over the course of the season as it plays out. Who is making plays? Who is missing them? Who is losing snaps? Who is struggling to stay on the field?
A stock evaluation can take a couple of different approaches and I’ll try to make clear my reasonings. In some cases it will be based on more long-term trends. In other instances it will be a direct response to something that just happened. So we can see a player more than once over the course of the season as we move forward.
Player: RB Anthony McFarland
Stock Value: Up
Reasoning: Anthony McFarland made his on-field NFL debut on Sunday in the Steelers’ win against the Houston Texans and managed to make a couple of plays in doing so.
The Steelers have gotten meaningful contributions out of four different rookies within the first three games of the 2020 season, the latest being Anthony McFarland, the fourth-year running back out of Maryland. He totaled 49 yards from scrimmage on seven touches during his on-field debut, the second game for which he was dressed, and showed the kind of game speed that enticed them coming out of college.
The first touch of his career went for seven yards, so nothing to sneeze at there. Later in the first half, he dropped the first pass that came his way. But the Steelers left him in the game and gave him a draw run, with the left-side B gap opening up. He showed good burst and picked up a chunk of 20 yards thanks to his quickness and speed.
At the start of the second half, they put him upfront again, and he went off left tackle for 11 yards on the first play. He got two yards on the ground and then seven in the air on two consecutive plays after that, but then was stuffed on third and one. James Conner came in to convert on fourth and one, but short-yardage is obviously not McFarland’s game.
The rest of his afternoon was pretty quiet, getting just one more touch on the final drive of the game, picking up two yards on a first-down play, but given the amount of times that he touched the ball and the frequency of his time in the game, it seems like an indication of how the Steelers intend to use him going forward.
Really, the biggest question is how often they can use four running backs. Conner is the lead back and Benny Snell is the guy who comes in to spell him. McFarland is now the changeup guy. Jaylen Samuels comes in at times on passing downs, but how long will they keep that up when they know Conner can do that, just for the purpose of giving him playing time?