It’s been a rather disastrous start to his career for Pittsburgh Steelers running back Anthony McFarland Jr.
A former fourth-round draft pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, McFarland was viewed as a key chess piece for the Steelers’ offense moving forward as he brought the legitimate home run speed to the position that had been sorely lacking over the years. Add in the fact that now second-year offensive coordinator Matt Canada was very familiar with him dating back to their time together at Maryland and it was very clear there was a real fit and role moving forward for McFarland.
However, after a rough rookie season that saw him struggle to make much of an impact, McFarland couldn’t get going in Year 2 due to injuries, touching the football just four times in two games for a total of 14 yards. Now, the former Maryland star enters a pivotal third training camp with the Steelers aiming to carve out a role in the backfield behind star Najee Harris, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review’s Chris Adamski.
“I feel like that’s what it’s all about, just finding a role,” McFarland said, according to a recent story by Adamski. “I’ve been thinking about how I can add to my versatility, just all around making plays. That’s what my mindset is: How can I show my versatility in different ways to have a role?”
A role is there for the taking with McFarland, who brings serious juice with the football in his hands when healthy. With the Steelers considering reducing Harris’s workload in 2022, a running back or two behind the 2021 first-rounder will need to step up in training camp and the preseason and prove that they’re capable of handling a workload that would allow for less touches and snaps for Harris.
Aside from Benny Snell Jr., McFarland appears to be the top bet to be that guy behind Harris, due to his change-of-pace skillset from the bruising, plodding Harris. McFarland’s speed and overall burst could provide a nice compliment to Harris’s physical style, which would make for a nice thunder and lightning combination in the Steelers’ backfield under position coach Eddie Faulkner.
Health will be a key factor for McFarland, especially after a trying second season that saw him undergo surgery late in training camp due to a torn MCL, leading to him beginning the season on injured reserve. Once he was activated, McFarland played in just two games and spent most of the season inactive on gamedays, or on the COVID-19 list.
Now, a pivotal third season awaits, not only for his time with the Steelers, but in the NFL overall.
“I’ve had a lot of setbacks, but I’ve learned a lot,” McFarland said, according to a recent story by Adamski. “Coming into Year 3, I’m feeling more comfortable and understanding what it is that I want my role to be to help the team out.
“I know there is a lot of doubt in my game. That’s what happens when you haven’t stepped on the field and showed much. But that’s what makes me hungry.”
He’ll have a chance to show just how hungry and desperate he is to carve out a role for the Steelers starting in training camp in Latrobe at Saint Vincent College in late July. A strong showing there, and some promise in preseason action would go a long way for McFarland sticking in the Steel City and carving out a role that he covets behind Harris.