PITTSBURGH — The Steelers have a new face in the running back room in first-round pick Najee Harris. However, Eddie Faulkner does not want anyone to forget about the other young running back in the room in Anthony McFarland, Jr.
A fourth-round pick out of Maryland in 2020, McFarland had a tough rookie season. It was marred by misusage and McFarland never looked quite up to speed against NFL-level defenses. It is the lack of preseason and offseason programs that Faulkner believes badly hurt McFarland’s growth in his rookie season.
“I think the lack of a preseason did affect him,” Faulkner said. “It affected him in seeing live bullets and getting game ready for Week One. It affected us in the sense of we didn’t get to really find out what he could do. Not just in the running back phase of things, but also special teams involvement.”
Instead of figuring out what McFarland’s skillset was in the offseason, the Steelers instead had to think on their feet during the regular season. It likely explains the odd usage of McFarland at times, in addition to his lack of available reps even when James Conner was injured. Still, Faulkner believes that McFarland can take a step this season and be a key part of the backfield.
“I’m very excited about getting him in a real developmental year,” Faulkner said. “I think there’s a lot of good football in Anthony McFarland.”
In this developmental year, Faulkner has focused his efforts on McFarland’s mental game. And Faulkner trusts that McFarland’s strong work ethic can help overcome his shortcomings.
“There’s a lot of talk about Najee and his work ethic, but Anthony McFarland is doing the same thing,” Faulkner said. “He’s learning how to be a professional. He’s spending the time not just learning what something is, but why we’re doing it. That is how you get him to play faster so he can slow the game down mentally. That way he can anticipate things before they happen.”
While Harris is the unquestioned starter in the backfield, it would not be surprising to see McFarland jump into the change of pace back role. If Faulkner’s words are any indication, it is clear that he knows McFarland has a lot more to give with his upside.