Anthony McFarland was the fourth running back in four years drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers. He was the fourth one to be active for a game this season, the fourth to get on the field, and not even until game three. But in that game, he was the second back to get a snap, on the second play of the game.
He didn’t touch the ball—it ended up in an incompletion to tight end Eric Ebron, the last incomplete ball thrown his way of the afternoon—but it showed that he would be a part of the offense on the day. Benny Snell did get a few more snaps and touches, but McFarland had a bigger impact.
In all, he rushed for 42 yards on six carries, including a 20-yard gain on his second touch. He also caught one pass for seven yards, though he dropped the ball on his first target, a rookie mistake he’ll be sure not to repeat again if he can help it.
He’s waited long enough to let the opportunity slip through his fingers now that he’s gotten a taste of professional football, and he’s been through this process before. In fact, it’s the story of his life through football, at every level.
“I really went through the same thing my whole career with football, just learning patience and just waiting until your number’s called”, he told reporters earlier today about not playing until the third game. “I went through that in high school and college, so really, I’m just numb to it. All I know is just to keep my head down and keep going and good things will happen. That’s where I’m at. I haven’t changed, even when I was inactive. I just kept my head on straight and knew that once my number was called, I can do some things. It was just good to go out there with the team”.
It took him time to be recognized at the high school level. When he got to Maryland, he redshirted in his freshman year. When he finally got to play in 2018, he was dynamic and explosive, rushing for over 1000 yards on just 131 attempts. He was still productive last season despite playing through injury, and then he declared for the draft with two years of eligibility remaining.
Of course, he was drafted by a team with a bell cow starting running back in James Conner, a team that uses its starter in the traditional fashion when they have the opportunity, as evidenced by Conner’s back-to-back 100-yard games.
And yet McFarland still managed to add 42 yards rushing of his own yesterday, not a bad start. After the game, head coach Mike Tomlin praised the rookie’s skill set as different from the rest of the backfield and complementary to what they do, simply concluding, “it was good to get him in the mix”.
Don’t expect him to be out of the mix any time soon either, I should think.