The Pittsburgh Steelers got big contributions from several rookies last season. More than expected. Chase Claypool was fantastic, Alex Highsmith stepped up, and Kevin Dotson played beyond his years. All three guys entrenched themselves as starters going into their sophomore seasons.
One rookie who was quiet in 2020 was RB Anthony McFarland. Though running backs typically make an easier jump from college to pros, McFarland carried the ball just 33 times, averaging 3.4 yards per carry for the league’s worst rushing attack.
Talking with reporters on a Tuesday Zoom call, RBs Coach Eddie Faulkner cited lack of preseason and offseason reps as the reason for McFarland’s slow first year in the league.
“I think [lack of a preseason] did affect it,” Faulkner said. “It affected him and it affected us. It affected him and seeing live bullets and getting game ready for Week 1. It affected us in the sense of finding out what he could do. Not only in the running back phase of things but special teams involvement. It’s hard to figure out on the run when you’re in the regular season. When you have a preseason, you can figure some of those things out.”
McFarland went over 20 yards rushing in just one game, Week 3 against Houston. He rushed for only 71 yards the rest of the season and a miserable 2.6 yards per carry. There were some mental miscues and the disaster that was the fourth down sluggo called for him in the loss to Washington, a route McFarland shouldn’t have been asked to run.
Though other rookies flourished without the benefit of a preseason, they were seniors coming out of college. Claypool, Highsmith, and Dotson were all upperclassmen. McFarland came out as a redshirt sophomore. Combine that with no spring program and zero preseason games, and it’s no surprise to understand his struggles, especially behind an offensive line who did him no favors.
Faulkner says he still has high hopes for what McFarland can do within the Steelers’ offense.
“I’m very excited about getting him a real developmental year. I think there’s a lot of good football in Anthony McFarland as well.”
Of course, finding consistent snaps this season will be tough. He could be the team’s No. 2 back and it helps his college coach Matt Canada is now his OC. But Najee Harris is fully expected to be the Steelers’ bell cow.