Just like Commissioner Roger Goodell, I was MIA at the start of Day 3 of the 2020 NFL Draft on Saturday afternoon.
But as I was out cutting grass, I did keep an ear open to hear the Steelers first pick of the fourth round. I missed it live, but I tuned into local sports radio programming to gauge the reaction to said pick, which was running back Anthony McFarland Jr. from Maryland.
The host was none too pleased, underwhelmed, not happy. “Why not trade for Leonard Fournette?” he asked. A caller from Maryland described McFarland as “not even the best running back on the team last year.”
The reactions on social media were mixed, with “negative” slightly ahead of “positive” on the score card.
Then I watched some McFarland highlights on YouTube. Now, granted, he looked quite good in each one—newsflash. But it wasn’t just that McFarland looked good during his highlights, he looked damned fast, as well.
Not knowing anything about him, I wasn’t expecting to be blown away by the speed of what was already being described by some as a wasted fourth-round pick. I mean, he just outran people on the way to some very long touchdowns.
I’m not the first to say this, but that’s different for running backs the Steelers have had in recent years—even those named Le’Veon Bell.
In-fact, with a forty time of 4.4, McFarland is faster than James Conner (4.65), Jaylen Samuels (4.54) and Benny Snell Jr. (4.66), running backs the Steelers have selected in the third, fifth and fourth rounds of the past three drafts, respectively. Furthermore, McFarland’s NFL.com Draft Profile grade of 5.98 (which, in that site’s world of grading, places him somewhere between a “Backup/special-teamer” and “Developmental traits-based prospect” is slightly higher than the profile grades of Conner (5.90), Samuels (5.90) and Snell (5.80).
Yet, the initial reaction to McFarland seems to be lukewarm, at best. Why? Maybe because the likes of J.K. Dobbins and Cam Akers were passed up in favor of taking receiver Chase Claypool at 49.
Other than that, I can’t think of much of a reason to not be as excited about McFarland as you were Conner, Samuels and Snell. Does McFarland have issues that are concerning? Sure, he came into the draft as a mid-round prospect.
There are issues with his size, the ability to pick up the blitz, durability, etc. But that’s your typical fourth-round running back.
He doesn’t have the college resume and production of a Conner or Snell. Also, he doesn’t seem to be as versatile as Samuels.
But maybe that’s because McFarland only played two years at Maryland before declaring for the 2020 Draft. And that, my friend, may be the most intriguing aspect of McFarland’s game—his lack of a workload. Yes, while other running backs taken earlier in the draft, such as Jonathan Taylor and Dobbins, had much higher workloads in college, McFarland enters the pros with just 245 collegiate carries on his tires.
As I alluded to, he does have a bit of an injury history—including a broken leg and a high-ankle sprain that slowed down his 2019 campaign. But injuries like that aren’t as concerning as ACLs or MCLs.
What’s my point? McFarland has just as much of a chance to be good at the pro level as any other running back the Steelers have drafted in recent years.
People love to say that running backs today are a dime a dozen, that you can find them in just about any round.
Maybe McFarland doesn’t make the team. Maybe he does but never dresses. Maybe he’s no more than the third or fourth member of a running back by committee backfield.
But maybe he’s Conner’s replacement for next season. Maybe the Steelers can address other needs in the first, second and third rounds of the 2021 NFL Draft.
Maybe he becomes a star.
You know how people like to write those “Why (insert mid-round draft pick here) could be the steal of the draft” articles right after the draft?
Maybe McFarland will actually be that for the Steelers.
You just never know with those dime a dozen running backs, and that’s why it’s okay to be excited about Anthony McFarland Jr., running back, Maryland.