Anthony McFarland was a(n apparently inadvertent) healthy scratch for the season opener. He dressed a week later, but did not play. Earlier today, he made his on-field debut for the Pittsburgh Steelers, his first action since being selected in the fourth round of the 2020 NFL Draft.
As is usually the case for rookies, there were ups and downs, but he did get an opportunity to show off some of his speed, following the blocking of the left side of his offensive line to break free for a 20-yard gain. This came immediately following a dropped pass on the first target of his career, a play on which the Steelers had two rookies on the field together, with Chase Claypool.
In the second half, they tried to get him involved even more, in fact being featured early in the third quarter, making a few plays, though thanks to trying to go up-tempo, he got struck trying to plow ahead on third and one and got stuffed. That’s not exactly his game, to state the obvious.
They actually got McFarland on the field before Benny Snell did, and one wonders if that wasn’t at least in part to send a message to the second-year back after fumbling twice in as many weeks. JuJu Smith-Schuster was there to save his bacon in the opener, but he lost it in a critical moment last week. He didn’t see much action on the day, even relative to James Conner’s play.
Now that McFarland is getting involved, one wonders what this means for the makeup of the backfield. How much is today’s game an indicator of how the Steelers want to proceed? Is he going to be seeing 8-10 touches per game?
He does offer that homerun speed that the Steelers have lacked in the backfield for a number of years. The few times they had a running back with speed, like Chris Rainey and Dri Archer, that doesn’t get a handle on the speed of the game and proved ineffective.
It’s such a small sample size, but the Maryland rookie did flash a little bit against the Houston Texans, and represented himself reasonably well considering the fact that this was his first action in an NFL game.
They have, after all, already gotten contributions for the other three of their top four rookies, Chase Claypool wit ha touchdown, Kevin Dotson with a start, and Alex Highsmith as a rotational outside linebacker, who has impacted a few plays through the first three weeks.
McFarland’s teammates and coaches were all full of praise for him after getting the first touches of his career. It’s easy to get the sense that this is just the beginning for him in terms of the way that he will be utilized in the offense as the season evolves.