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Monday Might Be RB Anthony McFarland’s Last Chance

If you listened to my Thursday Terrible Take, you already have an idea of what I’m writing about today. If there’s anyone who should be thankful for Monday night’s game against the Indianapolis Colts, it might be RB Anthony McFarland. Rookie RB Jaylen Warren is dealing with a hamstring injury and looks unlikely to play in Week 12’s game. And that could open the door for McFarland to have one last chance of proving what he can offer a roster.

Assuming Warren doesn’t play, the Steelers will need a third running back on the roster. They’re not going to go into a game with just two, that being Najee Harris and Benny Snell, so an elevation makes the most amount of sense. Three running backs currently sit on Pittsburgh’s practice squad: the newly signed Master Teague, Jason Huntley, and McFarland. Teague flashed during the summer but it’s doubtful he’ll ascend so quickly after just being brought back while Huntley is an option but less likely to be promoted than McFarland. McFarland has the NFL and Steelers’ experience to make him a logical one-game call-up.

Since being drafted in the fourth round of the 2019 draft, it’s been a difficult road for him. A redshirt sophomore in college who predictably didn’t look ready his rookie year, dealing with the 2020 pandemic, followed by a 2021 MCL injury that required surgery and essentially ended his season before it began. McFarland got back on the roster late in the year but hardly played, a total afterthought as Najee Harris dominated backfield touches.

McFarland had a nice training camp this year, flashing his speed and spark that made him the Steelers’ pick years ago. Here’s what we wrote on him following the summer.

“To his credit, McFarland enjoyed a solid start to camp through the opener, showing improved vision and consistency as a runner. He’s always one of the few to stay healthy wire-to-wire and he’s improved as a receiver, making some tough grabs on wheel/vertical routes. He finished camp with 108 yards receiving.”

As the Steelers annually tease, OC Matt Canada used McFarland in plenty of Pony groupings, two running back sets, using McFarland as the wing on jet runs and fakes. Should he be elevated to the 53 for Monday night, there could be a minor role for him to do the same, especially considering the Steelers only have two viable receivers in Diontae Johnson and George Pickens. Steven Sims and Gunner Olszewski have done virtually nothing post the Chase Claypool trade. In Week 11’s loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, they played a combined 63 snaps two passes on five targets, both from Olszewski on the Steelers’ final drive. The Steelers need to get more creative with its personnel groupings and 3-5 snaps of McFarland as an early down back and/or used in Pony packages would be worth a shot.

After Monday, there might not be any more chances for him. Warren could be back by Week 13 which would eliminate any path for McFarland to get elevated again. And I’m not pretending like Monday will be an incredible opportunity for him. Barring injury, he’s still in-line to play only a couple of snaps. But some opportunity sure beats no opportunity and he needs to put on tape not just for the Steelers but for the rest of the league to try to keep his NFL hopes more than theoretical.

Obviously, what McFarland does or doesn’t do Monday night isn’t going to determine the outcome of the game. Of all the things to think about in projecting this game, he’s about last on the list. But for him on a personal level, this is a very important game. It could be his last shot and he has to make the most of it.

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