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Speedy Steelers RB Dazzles on Way to Roster Spot



Steelers RB Anthony McFarland
Pittsburgh Steelers running back Anthony McFarland Jr. (26) runs with the ball against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the first half of a preseason NFL football game, Friday, Aug. 11, 2023, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

PITTSBURGH — The Steelers have waited a while, but this is the year they hope to get the Anthony McFarland breakout finally. Dealing with injuries and inconsistencies in years prior, McFarland could never crack the rotation fully at the RB position. Still, he put together his most complete performance during this training camp and preseason. His path to the roster was clear — win the RB3 job and use his speed as a distinguishing trait.

Mike Tomlin only has so many unique player types in his locker room. However, the three players could not be more different at the running back position. McFarland, in particular, is a speedy back who makes his mark in the receiving game, where he runs an expansive route tree and is a one-on-one nightmare. For Tomlin, that allowed McFarland to stand out, and his consistency in doing the routine things at the position gave him those flashy opportunities.

“Continual growth. You know, play making, one on one play making,” Tomlin said. “He has a distinguishing trait that kind of distinguishes him from his position group. He won more in space than others. He’s a challenge in the passing game, probably presents more of a challenge than some others. And so, distinguishing varsity traits are things that have been his calling card that allowed him to ascend.”

McFarland did enough to get some playing time in regular-season games. His unique skillset could be helpful on jet sweeps or pony sets aligned out of the slot. Expect him to get some legitimate run at times in games. With the Steelers looking to use multiple running backs and personnel groups, McFarland has a place in the offense in some respect. His receiving capabilities flashed all summer long. But his vision and patience might be newly-founded out of nowhere.

Nowadays, McFarland can run tough between the tackles or set up linebackers to sucker them into gaps and bounce them outside. McFarland has short-area burst on top of his long speed to pull off plays like the one above in the Falcons game. McFarland came out of Maryland at a young age, so he came into the NFL rawer than most running backs. But now, that skillset is starting to flesh out into an actual NFL running back who can play.

Will this be the year McFarland makes a legitimate impact? Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren will get first crack, but if one of those two gets injured, Pittsburgh seems ready to trust McFarland to step up for the first time in his career.

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