Have you ever attempted to earnestly make haste in a situation, but didn't seem to be getting anywhere? If you have, you know exactly how Steelers running back Anthony McFarland Jr. feels thus far in his NFL career.
McFarland's career has resembled a teen centric horror film of the slasher variety. McFarland would represent the first random, unnamed adolescent to die in every cookie cutter movie. You know exactly which irrelevant, underdeveloped character I am referring to.
The guy or gal that has the misfortune of being the first individual to come face-to-face with the killer. They immediately shriek in horror, before turning and running away as fast as they can from the killer, who happens to be walking slowly and calmly in pursuit.
It would seem rational and reasonable that the still young and robust target would easily outdistance the ever so slowly sauntering slasher, and secure their health and well-being by exiting stage right. You would think, but you would be wrong.
The inevitable victim spends far too much time and effort looking back as they repeatedly stop to scream bloody murder (see what I did there?) as they make their futile escape attempt. However, that's not the most disturbing part.
The most troublesome quality written into each one of these characters’ DNA is their complete and unimaginable clumsiness. Simply put, they fall down. Repeatedly and without reason, as if tripping over their own two feet.
Now you can see where I am going with this rather lengthy comparison.
Anthony McFarland Jr. is destined to be the next victim slashed from the Steelers running back depth chart if he can't learn to stay on his feet.
Based on some of the video clips being shared in the early stage of Organized Team Activities (OTAs), McFarland is still struggling to remain upright on the football field. It really doesn't matter how much speed you have, if you can never gain enough traction to reach top speed.
Steelers rookie Calvin Austin lll is as quick as a hiccup, with almost instant acceleration, and start-stop ability. The Steelers are hoping this exceptional quality will allow Austin to compete successful in the NFL, in spite of his diminutive physique. McFarland, also of a smaller stature, needs to show more of the elusiveness and pure speed he displayed in college.
Most Steelers fans have already written McFarland off, due to his extremely limited and unimpressive professional resume, but I think that might be just a tad bit premature.
McFarland is entering his third year in the NFL, but is still only 24 years-old. He is a extremely raw prospect, for more reasons than just his age.
McFarland was an Under Armor All-American his senior year of high school at Dematha Catholic in Maryland, despite sitting out the football season due to injury. He then red-shirted his freshman year at Maryland University in 2017, so the 2018 collegiate season was his first full slate of football in two years.
In spite of that inactivity, he hit the ground running, enjoying a monster 2018 season on the ground, with numerous splash plays and long runs. After suffering a nagging ankle injury early in 2019, he played through the discomfort, but never fully regained his explosiveness. He decided to forgo his final two years of eligibility and he entered the 2020 NFL Draft, where the Steelers selected him in the fourth round.
Inexperience is the first reason I feel McFarland has been unable to make a impact with the Steelers, and physical changes would be the second.
McFarland measured in at a shade over 5'8" and 208 lbs. during the pre-draft process. However, he reportedly played somewhere in the neighborhood of 190 to 193 lbs. during his collegiate career. Plenty of undersized runners try to put on a few pounds prior to testing, in an attempt to show they could conceivable be a full-time back, durable enough to successfully make a living running between the tackles.
The added weight theoretically could assist in their ability to break tackles, but only if it doesn't negatively impact their quickness and elusiveness. McFarland would post a 4.44 forty at his workout, which is fast, but not as fast as expected. He didn't run any of the other agility drills due to the aforementioned injury.
So McFarland's decision to pack on a few pounds prior to being drafted may have negatively impacted his overall health and abilities through the first couple of seasons with the Steelers. Now that's just a possible theory on my part.
The third possible reason for McFarland's slow start to his career is anything but a theory, as it is a certainty. The Steelers offensive line has been dismal throughout his career, even when he has been relatively healthy.
The Steelers once vaunted offensive line started to noticeably deteriorate in 2019, especially in the running game. It was labeled 'soft' late in 2020, but finally hit rock bottom last season, unable to either run or pass block at even a average NFL level, caused primarily to multiple departures due to free agency and retirements.
Honestly, it is nearly impossible to accurately evaluate the Steelers skill position players due to the severe limitations resulting from the offensive line's ineptitude. This inarguable truth impacted every faucet of the Steelers offensive game plan and execution.
Therefore, I have decided to reserve final judgement on many of the skill position players, like McFarland, until after they hopefully get to perform with at least an adequate offensive line this season.
McFarland needs to keep his feet on the ground, and his eyes on the prize, because the Turk is very real, and always creeping close behind.