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 be the odd man out at running back.
Explanation: With roster spots at a premium, it may be a luxury for the Steelers to carry three halfbacks on the 53-man roster, a topic that I raised earlier this morning. The question remains, though, which running backs will be kept, and second-year Anthony McFarland’s name has not come up much in the discussion of who may be left on the outside looking in.
McFarland is supposed to be the Steelers’ change-of-pace back, but he hasn’t offered much of a change. His preseason snaps have left more than a little something to be desired, for the most part, showing some of the same symptoms of his rookie season: happy feet and an unwillingness to run north and south.
Benny Snell and Kalen Ballage may have some trait similarities that make them redundant, but both are more NFL ready, and more reliable. Both are capable of holding up in pass protection, which is key, and both also contribute meaningfully on special teams.
Lest we forget, McFarland is Matt Canada’s guy, the Steelers’ new offensive coordinator. It is true that his preseason snaps when taken as a whole haven’t shown the sort of progress we would have liked to see, it’s still early, and he has had some nice plays, particularly in the second preseason game.
The reality is we haven’t even seen Canada’s offense yet. He will have a plan for McFarland, which includes two-back sets that we read about in training camp but which did not come to fruition in the preseason.
And then there’s the reality that McFarland, too, is a special teamer, and a more versatile one as well. He can be, at worst, the backup kick returner, and Danny Smith was open about them working him at punt returns as well. In addition to return work, he has also worked on kick coverage, and even recorded two tackles in three games. That was third-most on the team (tied) behind Jamir Jones and Buddy Johnson.