Through three weeks, the Pittsburgh Steelers have now gotten meaningful contributions from four of the six rookies that they drafted this year—plus special teams contributions from a fifth rookie signed as a college free agent. The latest to make his mark was fourth-round running back Anthony McFarland, who got not just his first, but his first seven touches.
“It was good to get Anthony McFarland involved, and I just thought our utilization of all the backs was a good element of play for us”, head coach Mike Tomlin said after the game, a 28-21 Pittsburgh Steelers victory over the Houston Texans that pushed them to 3-0 on the season and currently gives them the AFC North lead as the Baltimore Ravens prepare to face the Kansas City Chiefs.
McFarland got six rushes on the afternoon, totaling 42 yards, 20 of which came on one run, showing off the speed that so intrigued them coming out of Maryland. He still averaged over four yards per carry on his other five, even if it did include a third-and-short stop. He also caught one pass for seven yards, but had a drop as well.
The rookie was an inactive during the season opener, but this appears to have been a clerical error on Tomlin’s part, unclear on whether or not he was permitted to dress a 48th player. He did dress the back last week, but did not play him, though he said it wasn’t because McFarland wasn’t prepared.
“He was ready last week. That’s why we had the hat on him. Sometimes game circumstance doesn’t allow certain roles to develop, or things of that nature”, he told reporters. “We like the overall trajectory of his game. He’s been working hard and practicing hard, and having professional detail in his work, so we had trust in his abilities. It was good to get him in the mix. He brings a different skill set than some of the others, and I think they complement each other well”.
The Steelers had a lot of success on the ground today, totaling 169 yards on 38 carries, averaging 4.4 yards per carry with one James Conner touchdown. Conner himself went over 100 yards for the second straight week with 109 on the day. Benny Snell, who did a lot of short-yardage work, totaled 11 yards on seven carries. Diontae Johnson had a nine-yard end-around, a play on which he unfortunately suffered a concussion.
But now that the Steelers are working McFarland into the mix, it will be interesting to see what kind of role he has. As Tomlin said, he brings something different to the table, so that could result in him getting more servings, so to speak. He may already be in the rotation more than Jaylen Samuels, who had one carry for one yard and no targets in the passing game.