The 2021 NFL Draft is drawing near, which is as fitting a time as any to take a look back at the rookie season of the Pittsburgh Steelers class from the 2020 NFL Draft. While draft analysis begins as soon as the pick is in, we now have a year’s worth of data on these players to gain more compelling insight.
Over the course of the next several days, I will be providing an evaluation of each rookie that the Steelers drafted, while also noting any undrafted free agents that were able to stick around. This will not include the likes of J.C. Hassenauer and Henry Mondeaux, because while the 2020 season was their first to accrue, they were not true rookies, but rather first-year players.
The Steelers went into the 2020 NFL Draft with just six selections, including no first-round pick after dealing it to the Dolphins in 2019 for Minkah Fitzpatrick. They received a third-round compensatory pick for the loss of Le’Veon Bell. Their natural third-round pick was traded away the year before to move up for Devin Bush.
They swapped fifth and sixth-round picks with Miami for fourth and seventh-round picks, while they sent their previous fifth-round pick to the Seahawks for Nick Vannett. Their other fifth-round pick, which they dealt to Miami, came from the Jaguars in exchange for Joshua Dobbs.
Continuing a recent trend, the class has proven to be top-heavy in terms of early results, though there are still opportunities for those selected in the later rounds of the draft to develop into bigger contributors, as well.
Player: Anthony McFarland
Position: Running Back
Draft Status: Fourth Round (124th overall)
Starts: 11 (0 starts)
In part due to the fact that he had a prior connection to Matt Canada, a new member of the coaching staff, the drafting of speedy running back Anthony McFarland in the fourth round last year was met with some enthusiasm.
McFarland only played two seasons of football at Maryland before declaring for the draft last year, and he spent much of the 2019 season hurt. But under Canada the year before that as interim head coach, he rushed for over 1,000 yards on 131 attempts, averaging 7.9 yards per carry, scoring four touchdowns. He did score twice as many in his sophomore season, but with just 614 rushing yards on 114 rushing attempts.
It was thought that he would be able to add a home run dimension to Pittsburgh’s backfield. It’s possible that he still can, but he didn’t really get off the ground during his rookie season. He only saw the field for 89 snaps on offense all year, equating to 33 rushes for 113 yards, 20 of which came on one run early on. He also caught six of nine targets for 54 yards, with a bad drop.
Now that he has a season under his belt of learning and growing and actually getting on the field, and with Canada installed as the team’s new offensive coordinator, I think there is still reason to be optimistic about the Steelers getting an interesting and effective, albeit perhaps niche, contributor to the running game, and possibly the passing game as well, in McFarland going forward.