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Steelers All 90: Anthony McFarland Jr. Ready for His Chance



Steelers running back Anthony McFarland Jr.

Anthony McFarland Jr. has been the running back that has gotten lost in the crowd ever since he was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the fourth round of the 2020 NFL Draft. During his rookie season, he was stuck behind James Conner and Benny Snell. For the next two seasons, it was Najee Harris and Snell who stood in his way with Jaylen Warren steamrolling past him in the last year.

With Snell officially gone to free agency, McFarland’s path back to the team’s third running back is more open than maybe ever. It is clear that Harris and Warren will be the first and second options, but the Steelers like to roster a third running back and it is an open competition.

What McFarland has over other potential candidates is his experience in the NFL. While he has only appeared in 14 career games, other backs on the roster such as Alfonzo Graham and Darius Hagans are both rookies and Jason Huntley has only 18 career carries. This is giving McFarland the extra looks from the coaches.

“Ant Mac, he’s the elder statesman in the room,” said Steelers running backs coach Eddie Faulkner. “He’s somebody that we’re really taking a look at. We already kind of know what it is that he can do and we’re just trying to feature him in some things. I think Ant could definitely be in that role.”

As far as what McFarland has improved on since the last time that he held a role on this team, which was his rookie season, is basically everything from identifying tendencies to watching game film.

“I never really understood that my rookie year,” said McFarland. “[In] college, it’s easy to get away with stuff. You rely on your athleticism a lot. But in the NFL, you learn quickly it’s not going to be that. Everybody’s good, everybody’s athletic at this level. It’s the little things that matter. … I’ve come a long way from my rookie year.”

Coming out of Maryland, McFarland ran a 4.44 40-yard dash and showcased some of that speed during his rookie season. This is also intriguing to the Steelers’ coaches as it can create mismatches depending on where they line him up at. McFarland is a reliable pass catcher on top of that so lining him up in the slot as well as the backfield is not out of the question.

“I think it makes it fun for schematic purposes,” Faulkner said. “You can do some things mismatch-wise. Ant Mac is a really good route runner. Getting him in one on one situations with backers is different. It’s good when you have that because it gives you different ways and things you can do schematically.”

Realistically, the way for McFarland to make the team in 2023 is to excite the coaches with his special team play, which is mainly the reason Snell made the team over him last season. McFarland understands this and is focused on becoming better in that phase of his game.

“That’s the only way I’m going to make this team is to be on special team any way I can whether it’s punt, kickoff. It doesn’t matter.”

26 • Anthony McFarland Jr., Running Back, Maryland
5-foot-8, 193 pounds, 25 years old, 4th Season

Acquired: The Steelers originally drafted McFarland out of the University of Maryland with the 124th overall pick in the fourth round of the 2020 NFL Draft. McFarland signed a reserve/future contract with the Steelers this offseason to stay in Pittsburgh.

Last YearMcFarland was waived by the Steelers on Aug. 30, 2022, and signed to the team’s practice squad the next day.

He was elevated to the team’s active roster for the Week 12 game against the Indianapolis Colts. McFarland was on the field for 10 offensive snaps against the Colts and recorded six carries for 30 yards. He recorded three first downs and had one run of over 10 yards.

Steelers RB Anthony McFarland

PHILADELPHIA, PA – AUGUST 12: Pittsburgh Steelers running back Anthony McFarland (26) beats Philadelphia Eagles defensive back Michael Jacquet (38) for a reception during the preseason game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Pittsburgh Steelers on August 12, 2021 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, PA. (Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire)

Career: After the Steelers selected McFarland in the fourth round of the 2020 NFL Draft, he made his NFL debut in Week 3 against the Houston Texans. During that game, McFarland had six carries for 42 yards. In total during his rookie season, McFarland had 33 carries for 113 yards.

McFarland only played seven snaps for the Steelers offense in 2021 as he totaled three carries for 3 yards.

In his career, McFarland has 42 carries for 146 yards but has yet to score an NFL touchdown.

Year GP Carries Yards AVG TDs
2020 11 33 113 3.4 0
2021 2 3 3 1.0 0
2022 1 6 30 5.0 0

CollegeComing out of powerhouse DeMatha Catholic High School, McFarland was a consensus four-star recruit and he decided to commit to the University of Maryland. In 2017, McFarland red-shirted and did not see the field for the Terps.

As a redshirt freshman, McFarland ran onto the scene as he recorded 131 carries for 1,034 yards and four touchdowns. He averaged a staggering 7.9 yards on his 130-plus carries which ranked sixth in the entire FBS level of football. He appeared in 12 games for Maryland and registered five starts. McFarland broke the Maryland freshman rushing record in yards. He also became the second player in Maryland history to have back-to-back 200-yard rushing games. After the season, McFarland was named to the second-team All-Big Ten.

In 2019, McFarland appeared in 11 of 12 games and made seven starts. His overall stats went down in his second year of action but he doubled his touchdown total. McFarland tallied 114 carries and 614 yards while rushing for eight touchdowns.

In McFarland’s 23 career games at Maryland, he managed 245 carries for 1,648 and 12 rushing touchdowns. He finished third in Maryland history averaging 6.7 yards per carry.

Year GP Carries Yards AVG TDs
2017 0 0 0 0.0 0
2018 12 131 1,034 7.9 4
2019 11 114 614 5.4 8

Salary cap and future: McFarland signed a reserve/future contract with the Steelers on Jan. 12, 2023. He will cost $940,000 against the Steelers’ cap space in 2023. His contract carries a base salary of the whole $940,000.  McFarland will become a free agent after the 2023 season.

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