Being a rookie in 2020 came with a slew of disadvantages for reasons that I imagine don’t need to be detailed, but the mere fact alone that there was no preseason really hindered not just rookies’ abilities to develop, but also for teams to evaluate them..
In spite of this, the Steelers have already gotten meaningful contributions from each of their top four draft picks, out of six selections in total, with one a weekly healthy scratch, and the other on the practice squad. A seventh rookie, undrafted free agent cornerback James Pierre, has already established himself on the practice squad.
Not counting Carlos Davis, the rookie seventh-round defensive lineman who will likely be inactive all season except in the event of injuries, fourth-round running back Anthony McFarland was the last of the six rookies on the 53-man roster to have the opportunity to make an impact.
He was inactive for the season opener, and then failed to play a week later despite getting a helmet. But he was given 10 snaps on Sunday against the Houston Texans and was designated for the ball eight times, with six carries and two targets, one of which he caught. In all, he totaled 49 yards from scrimmage on seven touches.
“My adrenaline was pumping because I was just excited”, he told reporters on Monday about his first carry. “I was ready to go, and all I could think about was just, saying to myself in my head, when I get my first carry, just be decisive, just make one cut and run, because that’s just how this league is”.
Of course, there’s a lot more that goes into the game than just your own snaps. The Steelers have already played 209 snaps on offense. He has been involved in less than five percent of them. He has to know what he’s doing even when he is on the sideline, observing.
“Just basically understanding the game, and me being out those past two games and being a student of the game, you know, I’m a rookie, so that’s what I have to do whether I’m in the game or out of the game”, he said. “I was really just trying to be a student of the game, like ball security, just the little things. I feel like if you do the little things right, good things will happen”.
The Steelers did not turn the ball over for the first time in 25 games on Sunday, despite the contributions of two rookie skill position players, although it must be said that Chase Claypool did fumble the ball out of bounds on the final meaningful offensive snap.
Of course, Benny Snell has also preached ball security, and he has two fumbles on the season in his second year. There’s always a new lesson to be learned waiting around the corner.