Now that the 2021 season is over, bringing yet another year of disappointment, a fifth 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 have seen and are seeing over the course of the season and into 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 reasoning. 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. Because of this, we can and will see a player more than once over the course of the season as we move forward.
Player: RB Anthony McFarland
Stock Value: Up
Reasoning: While it’s not exactly a ringing endorsement, the fact that the Steelers did not draft a running back makes the odds of Anthony McFarland making the 53-man roster that much better.
A fourth-round draft pick in 2020, Anthony McFarland pretty quickly drew mixed reviews, with some thinking that he would completely bust, and others believing that he would help to add a different dimension in the backfield.
The prospects of his blossoming under his college head coach and offensive coordinator, Matt Canada, in 2021 proved to be—well, it never even got off the ground. He opened the regular season on the Reserve/Physically Unable to Perform List, and when he activated to the 53-man roster, he spent most of his time as a healthy scratch.
The Steelers did carry four running backs last year, with Najee Harris, Benny Snell, and Kalen Ballage all ahead of him. Ballage was not re-signed, but it’s certainly very possible that the team adds another veteran running back at some point during this process.
They did sign two running backs as college free agents after the draft in Jaylen Warren and Mataeo Durant. Historically, running back is one of the easier offensive and defensive positions at which undrafted players can earn roster spots.
So what exactly happened with McFarland last year? Was it a matter of his not ‘getting aboard the moving train’ after he was injured, with others having established roles ahead of him? Had the coaching staff just not seen enough to suggest to them that he can help?
Even with the team not drafting a running back, and also not re-signing Ballage, McFarland is far from guaranteed to make the roster this year. Running back is one of the easiest positions in football to turn over. They really should have signed Phillip Lindsay, in my opinion.
With that being said, I am all for him earning his way onto the roster this year. He does have an exciting skillset if he can actually utilize it. His body of work through his first two years didn’t really show us much, but maybe another year under his belt, better health, and a better offensive line—and an offense that is now fully into Canada’s system—will be the difference.