As we’ve done in previous years, we’re looking at Pittsburgh Steelers under futures contracts for the 2023 offseason. A lot of players spent most if not the entire year on the practice squad, and we look at what we can expect from them during training camp (hopefully) into the regular season.
Anthony McFarland/RB Maryland – 5081, 208 lbs.
And for the record, that 208 pound listing is based off his Combine weight which feels like an eon ago. McFarland needs less copy than most of the other Futures players given the fact he has been nothing but a Steeler throughout his career. A former fourth-round pick who flashed his speed, it hasn’t translated in Pittsburgh.
He’s faced obstacles within and outside of his control. He declared as a redshirt sophomore and came into the league underdeveloped, looking every bit of a guy who was supposed to be a junior in college. Many running backs declare a year early before they get too old and have too much wear and tear, but McFarland was especially young with less than 250 career college carries under his belt.
He was also part of the 2020 draft, one heavily disrupted by the COVID pandemic. No in-person draft. No rookie minicamp. The cancellation of all spring activity and a modified training camp that saw players go home each night instead of rooming together in Latrobe, an important team-building exercise. Valuable time missed for a rookie to pick up a NFL playbook and learn the game.
Still, his biggest NFL action came as a rookie. Not that it was any good. Thirty-three carries, only four first downs, under 3.5 yards per carry, a bizarre sluggo designed for him on fourth down in the team’s first loss of the year against Washington. In 2021, the team made Najee Harris its first-round pick and he dominated the backfield landscape, rarely coming off the field. McFarland was dogged by a MCL injury right before the season and wound up playing in only two games with three carries for three yards.
By 2022, he was fighting just to stick around the team. Undrafted rookie Jaylen Warren emerged and Benny Snell kept his role as the team’s trusty #3 and special teamer, leaving McFarland on the practice squad. To his credit, he flashed early in camp, and we struck a relatively optimistic tone in the beginning of our summer write-up on him.
“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.”
But in the next breath, we noted his struggles in pass protection and how phased out he was of even training camp carries by the end, despite the team suffering backfield injuries to Harris, Snell, and Master Teague. Over the team’s final four camp practices, McFarland received only four carries.
He spent the majority of 2022 on the practice squad but was called upon for the team’s Week 12 win over the Indianapolis Colts. With injuries to Harris and Warren, Snell and McFarland led the way. Snell ran tough and found the end zone while McFarland, for basically the first time since his Maryland days, showcased his speed with a couple of solid runs. He finished the night with six carries for 30 yards and two grabs for eleven more, playing a key role in getting the win. The backfield got healthy for the following week and McFarland didn’t log another snap the rest of the season.
Entering 2023, McFarland is down to his final chance. Though *still* only 24, he can’t hang around on the practice squad much longer. The good news for him is there’s no clear #3 running back on the roster. Snell could return post-draft but remains a free agent, and the rest of the room is comprised of fellow Future contract names like Teague and Jason Huntley. More names will get added with undrafted free agents but right now, that final spot is up for grabs. Unfortunately for McFarland, he doesn’t have the special-teams value Pittsburgh likes with its third running back. He tried to play gunner last year and it did not go well. His return value is minimal in a league that’s making it less and less important anyway.
He was always a curious choice who didn’t fit the mold of how Pittsburgh has drafted the position. Square peg in a round hole. Given the injuries, youth, and bad time to start a career, McFarland doesn’t look like a pick that’ll ever work.