Now that training camp has begun, following yet another year of disappointment, a fourth consecutive season with no postseason victories, it’s time to take stock of where the Pittsburgh Steelers stand. Specifically where Steelers players stand individually based on what we are seeing over the course of the offseason as it plays out. We will also be reviewing players based on their previous season and their prospects for the future. A stock evaluation can take a couple of different approaches and I’ll try to make clear my reasonings. In some cases it will be based on more long-term trends. In other instances it will be a direct response to something that just happened. So we can see a player more than once over the course of the season as we move forward.
Player: RB Anthony McFarland
Stock Value: Up
Reasoning: Running back Anthony McFarland appears to be primed for having a bigger and more effective role as he heads into his second season.
As an inexperienced underclassman coming out of school and into the NFL during a pandemic that stripped teams of much of their offseason, and the preseason in its entirety, it isn’t entirely surprising that Anthony McFarland didn’t tear things up in 2020.
That doesn’t mean that he is going to do it this year, either, but at least he should have a bigger role, and perhaps will be more effective executing it. Last week, he told reporters that he realizes he was trying to do too much with every touch he got, fearing that he won’t get many more.
He also told reporters that he added a bit of muscle this offseason while retaining his speed, the defining trait that made him a fourth-round draft pick in spite of the fact that he only had about a season and a half of college experience in a platooned backfield.
The secret ingredient herein is the fact that Matt Canada is now the Steelers’ offensive coordinator, and he was McFarland’s offensive coordinator (and interim head coach) in 2018 during his breakout season with the Maryland Terrapins.
First and foremost, Canada showed then that he knows how to utilize McFarland in ways that allow him to be successful. Second, he is also a more creative offensive play-caller than his predecessor, Randy Fichter, from which a player like the second-year back can benefit.
We are seeing signs of this already during training camp, which has included some usage of two-back sets and motions off to the perimeter, basically aspects of plays that accentuate his speed. We will also see him split out as a receiver.
Of course, Najee Harris is going to get the vast majority of the work at running back. But if he actually performs well, it wouldn’t be an upset if McFarland receives the most touches behind Harris at the position by the time the season is over.