The regular season marks the culmination of an extensive investigation into who your team will be that year. By this point, you’ve gone through free agency, the draft, training camp, and the preseason. You feel good in your decisions insofar as you can create clarity without having played meaningful games. But there are still plenty of uncertainties that remain, whether at the start of the regular season or the end, and new ones continually develop over time.
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 get 5+ touches against the Bears.
Explanation: In his first game off of the Reserve/Injured List, second-year running back Anthony McFarland only got one touch, a carry on a pitch for a modest gain. He did log seven snaps, more than double the workload for the other reserve running backs combined.
While the injury set him back significantly, it has always felt as though the Steelers had plans for McFarland in their offense. Not as a featured player by any means, but as a bit player who could add a certain dimension that others on the roster could not.
Nothing from last Sunday’s game suggests that that has changed, even if he only carried the ball once. The way that they used him, in a specific set of packages, indicates a more defined role, and having a role at least means that you should get some action.
Seven snaps is not shabby at all, especially when you consider the amount of snaps Najee Harris plays. He never logged more than 14 snaps in a game last year, but he had 39 touches in 89 offensive snaps. That’s a really high usage ratio. Obviously it’s not going to be that high, but if he can see a dozen snaps or so, that should get him five touches now that he has a game under his belt and is back into the swing of things.
As long as he is healthy, Harris is going to be getting around 85 percent of the snaps every week, and he’s going to be touching the ball 25-30 times. That just really doesn’t leave much room for the rest of the running backs to contribute when you consider you have, you know, all the wide receivers and tight ends to consider at that point.
It’s not secret that Mike Tomlin is a believer in the bell cow back paradigm, and when he has a running back who is capable of doing everything, as Harris is, then the other backs are not going to be doing much. This is no different.
McFarland only recorded five or more touches in a game three times during his rookie season, with a high of seven. That was in his first game, and they scaled back his work after that. Considering he opened his second season with just one carry, that’s not exactly screaming ‘this guy is gonna play’. I think five touches is a good over/under here—but take the under.