Steelers 2020 Rookie Scouting Report: Anthony McFarland Jr.
In the coming weeks, I will be summarizing the film notes from my personal pre-draft prospect scouting reports and take an in-depth look at the Steelers’ 2020 rookie class (including undrafted free agents). What are their strengths and weaknesses? Where do they fit in with the Steelers? Be sure to check out each scouting report over the next few weeks to find out my thoughts on the newest members of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Next up, Anthony McFarland, Jr.
- Name: Anthony McFarland, Jr.
- Date of Birth (Age): March 4, 1999 (21)
- Hometown: Hyattsville, Maryland
- College: Maryland
- Class: Redshirt Sophomore
- Position: Running Back
- College Number: 5
- Height: 5’8″
- Weight: 208 lbs
- Hands: 8 7/8″
- Arms: 30 3/8″
- Wingspan: 73 3/8″
- 40 Yard Dash: 4.44 seconds
- Bench Press: —
- Vertical Jump: 29.5″
- Broad Jump: 116.0″
- 3 Cone Drill: —
- 20 Yard Shuttle: —
2019 Stats: 11 games, 114 rushing attempts, 614 rushing yards (5.4 average), 8 rushing touchdowns; 17 receptions, 126 receiving yards (7.4 average), 1 receiving touchdown
Career Stats: 23 games, 245 rushing attempts, 1,648 rushing yards (6.7 average), 12 rushing touchdowns; 24 receptions, 199 receiving yards (8.3 average), 1 receiving touchdown
- Only 245 carries (269 total touches) in college means that there is still a lot of tread left on the tires
- Smaller size can make him disappear behind the line and helps him hit small creases bigger backs might struggle with
- Solid vision to feel for cutback lanes
- Better between the tackles than you would expect from a back of his size
- Elite speed to hit the perimeter quickly on outside runs, forcing defenses to adjust properly
- Hard runner
- Possesses elite downhill acceleration to hit the hole in a hurry and the speed to break away from second- and third-level defenders
- A home run hitter every time he has the ball in his hands
- While he is a smaller back, he keeps his legs moving through contact, often creating broken tackles or falling forward for extra yards
- Often uses low center of gravity to accelerate into contact as a hammer instead of settling for being a nail
- Solid contact balance
- Accelerates through arm tackles, often making them ineffective in bringing him down
- Blistering footwork and fluid athleticism allows for very good lateral agility and elusiveness in the open field
- While inexperienced as a receiver, he flashes soft hands with plenty of upside in the passing game
- Slips behind defenders while tracking the ball on wheel routes
- Lower body injuries in high school and college could raise concerns in the NFL due to this size and frame
- Could use some added lower-body strength and flexibility to become an even more powerful runner
- At this point, not much of a short-yardage back
- Impatient while waiting for blocks to develop in front of him
- Quick to bounce inside runs to the outside when blocking isn’t there right away
- Not particularly creative when running lanes aren’t there
- While the athleticism is great, he uses more steps than necessary when attempting to change direction quickly
- Needs a lot of work in pass protection; lacks the anchor to stand up against bigger pass rushers
In a class with plenty of intriguing names at running back, Maryland’s Anthony McFarland Jr. slipped through the cracks as a prospect. In college, McFarland amassed on 269 total touches, meaning he comes to the NFL with experience but plenty of tread left on the tires for more production in the league. However, this does not mean that he is not a prospect worth monitoring in the NFL, as his overall skill set comes with a lot of excitement and foundation to build off of.
Standing 5’8″ 208 pounds, McFarland won’t “wow” you physically, but don’t be mistaken: he is an electrifying runner with deceptive power. When he heads towards the line of scrimmage, he can seemingly disappear behind the giant linemen in front of him, which allows him to feel for creases uninterrupted. Feeling these creases also shows off his vision for finding cutback lanes to gain as much yardage on a play as possible. Bigger backs often struggle in this area, but McFarland uses his stature to “get skinny” through the aforementioned creases and look for daylight in front of him. This also allows him to be better between the tackles than you would typically expect from a running back with frame, which should help his development into a potential three-down back in the NFL. When running outside of the tackles, McFarland routinely beats defenders to the perimeter and hits the edge to get upfield, which catches unsuspecting defenses off guard. A hard runner, McFarland presses the line of scrimmage with elite acceleration and hits the hole in a hurry. If he is able to make it through, he turns on the jets with elite speed to break away from defenders and burst into the open field. To say he is a home run hitter every time the ball is in his hands would be a large understatement. When he doesn’t make it through cleanly, he often keeps his legs moving through contact, causing him to constantly fall forward or for defenders to slip off of him. This also displays his ability to utilize solid contact balance in the open field, leaving would-be arm tacklers to be left grasping at air if they don’t throw a body on him. Where McFarland really shines, though, is with his athleticism. In the open field, McFarland’s elusiveness is shown off by fantastic footwork and lateral agility, frequently stringing together moves on defenders to create extra yardage on his runs.
Surprisingly, Maryland didn’t use McFarland as a receiving option nearly as much as you would expect for a player with his skill set. Even though he is relatively inexperienced in this area, he flashes very soft hands and receiving ability with plenty of upside when given the chance. There was enough here to think that with continued exposure to the passing game in the NFL, he can be a useful player in this area.
If you want the best feel for McFarland’s tape, it is best to watch his 2018 campaign and the early part of 2019. A lower-body injury caused McFarland to miss his senior season of high school and another one caused him to be slowed for part of his 2019 season, where he played through the injury but his production was impacted. With his frame, there will be concern on how he’ll hold up with the increased size and speed of the NFL. To help with his durability and effectiveness as a runner, McFarland could benefit from adding some additional strength and flexibility to his lower body, which would also help improve his powerful running style. Where he currently stands, I don’t feel that he would flourish as a short-yardage back against loaded boxes that would cause him to muscle up against multiple meaty defensive linemen crashing the line of scrimmage. McFarland obviously has elite acceleration when pressing the line of scrimmage but he often does so without any real sense of patience while waiting for blocks to develop in front of him. If the blocking isn’t there right away, particularly on inside runs, he too frequently will bounce a run to the outside and try to find space where he is more comfortable in trusting his athleticism. At Maryland, McFarland did most of his damage when open spaces were clearly present and he didn’t have to do as much creative work for himself, which was evident with his lack of patience and propensity for bouncing runs.
While I think some of this is very coachable with gained experience and improved vision and feel for running schemes, the biggest area that McFarland will need to improve is his pass protection. Right now, he doesn’t have the anchor to stand up against bigger pass rushers, whether that means defensive linemen or untouched linebackers with a full head of steam blitzing from the second level. To really be considered a three-down back who just doesn’t automatically go out for passes on third down, McFarland will need to come a long way in his abilities as an extra blocker.
Fit with the Steelers
I will be honest with you: I was quite surprised that the Steelers took Anthony McFarland Jr. in the 2020 NFL Draft. Not because he isn’t a good prospect but because he goes against the grain for what the Steelers typically look for in running backs. That is really where the intrigue begins with me, as his athletic profile is unparalleled by every back currently on the roster except for Kerrith Whyte (although McFarland is a more powerful runner in my opinion). Heading into 2020, James Conner will be the obvious lead back for the Steelers, as long as he remains healthy (which is far from guaranteed). With Benny Snell having a very similar style as Conner, the added athletic profile of McFarland as a potential big-play threat is a breath of fresh air for the Steelers backfield. Throw in the pass-catching ability of Jaylen Samuels and the Steelers have an expanded arsenal of skillsets at their disposal heading into 2020.
In the long-term, McFarland has three-down potential but much of that depends on how he can develop in pass protection and as a receiving threat. In the short-term, McFarland will likely be used as a change-of-pace/complimentary back as he works on his craft. In the event that Conner goes down with an injury in 2020, it would not surprise me at all if the Steelers would employ more of a committee approach with Snell, McFarland, and Samuels each serving a different role in the rotation. Either way, the Steelers will likely manufacture a way to get McFarland onto the field early on to add a spark to the running game, as you can’t teach his home run ability. I also could see the Steelers test out his abilities as a return man alongside players like Diontae Johnson to utilize his big-play ability in a different fashion.
With Conner’s future in Pittsburgh beyond the 2020 season being in question, the Steelers could have a very different looking backfield in the very near future. McFarland runs with the tough mindset that the Steelers desire and with added strength and patience, he could become an even more effective runner not only on outside runs but between the tackles. It has yet to be determined if he’ll ever be a true three-down running back but there is no denying how exciting of a player McFarland is on tape and gives him plenty of upside to work with as a pro.