In the two seasons since Le’Veon Bell left Pittsburgh, the Steelers have been lacking explosiveness in their running game. James Conner has been solid when healthy but injury concerns have forced Mike Tomlin to consider others options out of the backfield. Enter Anthony McFarland Jr, 4th round draft pick out of the University of Maryland.
McFarland was a highly recruited high school prospect from perennial powerhouse DeMatha Catholic. Despite missing his senior year with a broken leg, he was offered scholarships from prestigious programs such as Alabama, Penn State and Georgia. All of which he turned down, preferring to play for UMD and remain close to his family and friends.
In 2018, McFarland put his abilities on full display. He finished the campaign with 1034 yards on 131 carries, including a 298 yard explosion against Ohio State. McFarland torched the Buckeye defense with runs of 81, 75 and 52 yards. His numbers at the NFL combine were also quite impressive, running the 40-yard dash in 4.44 seconds. That ranked him 4th out of 28 running backs to compete at the combine.
One knock on McFarland is his size, standing 5-8 and weighing 208 pounds. Like Conner, he has also been plagued by injuries. Most recently, a high ankle sprain which led to a subpar senior campaign with the Terps. His limited involvement in the passing game are raising questions about his ability to catch the ball. McFarland’s smaller stature could also be cause for concerns in pass protection.
McFarland figures to compete with Benny Snell and Jalen Samuels for the primary backup roll behind James Conner. If the Steelers do decide to limit Conner’s touches, McFarland could make for an interesting change of pace option out of the backfield.