A new mini-series for Steelers Depot this offseason. We’re taking a look at which Steelers are under the brightest lights this offseason. Players who need to have big years in make-or-break seasons. Continuing today with RB Anthony McFarland.
Anthony McFarland/RB (Third Year)
McFarland certainly isn’t core to the Steelers’ success the way our first article on Kevin Dotson is. Even in a best-case scenario where McFarland turns the corner, he isn’t going to be the reason why Pittsburgh wins games. Still, this is make-or-break, do-or-die for McFarland, the speedy back out of Maryland the team drafted in the fourth round of the 2020 draft.
Since he became the pick, McFarland’s career has been all downhill. His rookie year struggles were understandable. He was an underclassman, a redshirt sophomore, coming into a strange pandemic year behind an aging Steelers’ offense line that didn’t offer any running back rush lanes. Coaches occasionally compounded the problem like asking him to run a sluggo on 4th and 1 and, surprise, it didn’t work.
But 2021 was supposed to be the year to make a jump. It didn’t happen. McFarland was used quite a bit in camp, getting in on Matt Canada’s new-fangled jet sweep plays and pre-snap window dressing. But McFarland suffered a torn MCL, reportedly an injury that had been lingering since college, and started the year on injured reserve. He got healthy and activated, but was way behind the moving train with Najee Harris looking every bit of the workhorse back the Steelers hoped he’d be. McFarland struggled to even get activated on gameday and ultimately appeared in just two games, logging 19 offensive snaps and carrying the ball three times for three yards.
Over his first two years, McFarland has carried the ball just 36 times for 116 yards, an average of 3.2 yards per carry, a number reflective of a plodder, not the gamebreaker he looked like in college. He doesn’t offer much as a blocker or a receiver, especially given the Steelers’ decade-long woes with their RB screen game. Pittsburgh didn’t end a tremendous amount of running back competition this offseason, but UDFAs Jaylen Warren and Mataeo Durant will be hot on McFarland’s heels.
McFarland should enter the year healthy and will need to act every bit of it. There’s still a path for him on this roster, even as the #2 RB with Benny Snell better off as the #3 and core special-teamer. But McFarland is long off scholarship and will have to fight and scrap for his roster spot. He’ll need to create explosive plays, take care of the football, and prove he can be a defined runner to occasionally give Harris a break.