The offseason is inevitably a period of projection and speculation, which makes it the ideal time to ponder the hypotheticals that the Pittsburgh Steelers will face over the course of the next year, whether it is addressing free agency, the draft, performance on the field, or some more ephemeral topic.
That is what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
The range of topics will be intentionally wide, from the general to the specific, from the immediate to that in the far future. And as we all tend to have an opinion on just about everything, I invite you to share your own each morning on the topic statement of the day.
Topic Statement: Anthony McFarland will see the second-most touches (barring injury) out of the backfield for the Steelers by the season’s end.
Explanation: Although he did not play in the Steelers’ first two games of the season, rookie Anthony McFarland saw 10 snaps in their last game, on eight of which, he was the featured player, or was intended to be. He carried the ball six times for 42 yards and added a one-yard reception on two targets for seven yards.
Considering the fact that Benny Snell only got one more carry on that day than McFarland did, and the same amount of touches, it certainly seems as though the Steelers’ plan going forward is for the speedy new back to be the primary complementary, change-up piece out of the backfield to pair with James Conner.
McFarland’s draw is the fact that he offers something different, and he already showed the speed that he has on one of his first touches on a 20-yard run. Snell largely duplicates Conner’s skill set, only, by and large, not quite as successfully, so it’s largely redundant and useful primarily as simply a way to give him a break.
But Conner is a player whom you want to give a break, while McFarland is not the type of player you want playing an entire series, and not just because he is a rookie who hardly had an offseason and has literally 10 snaps on an NFL field.
Snell still saw more snaps in that game than McFarland, and he also got situational work in short yardage and things of that nature that will keep him in the running back rotation. With Conner and Snell so similar, we will also likely see some back-and-forth usage based on who is having success.
And there’s no guarantee that McFarland is going to see obvious sustained success. Chances are he is going to struggle, he is going to be unproductive, he’ll make mistakes, and he’ll wind up seesawing in and out of relevance in the backfield.