The Steelers were lacking speed on offense prior to drafting Mayland running back, Anthony McFarland. Could he be their best runner in 2020?
There aren’t many scenarios where I could argue that a fourth-round rookie could come in and be the most effective runner on the ground for an NFL football team, but perhaps this is one I can make a case for. The Steelers were lacking one major component on the ground: Speed. That is something that will not be an issue for Anthony McFarland.
The rookie out of Maryland has speed – and plenty of it. After bursting out for one big gain after another in college, McFarland backed up the speed we saw on film by running a 4.44-second 40-yard dash – testing in the 86th percentile of all NFL running backs.
Though James Conner was a Pro Bowl player in 2018, the Steelers don’t have any star talent at the position. Conner is constantly banged up, while Benny Snell has a hard time running outside the tackles. Jaylen Samuels has been a very solid receiving option in his first two seasons, but the former college tight end looks lost at times as a runner.
Strictly referring to their impact on the ground, could Anthony McFarland be the Steelers best runner as early as his rookie season?
While both Conner and Snell are big-bodied running backs who do a solid job breaking tackles and running through defenders, they both lack speed in a big way. Conner posted a 4.65 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine back in 2017, while Snell’s 4.66 last year was even a fraction slower.
This lack of speed shows up often on the field. When the Steelers offensive linemen execute their assignments perfectly, there are times when a fast running back would take it the distance. However, on some of these runs that should go all the way, Conner gets tracked down after a 15-20 yard gain, while Snell does even less with his opportunities.
Last year on 290 rushing attempts between Conner, Snell, and Samuels, the three running backs combined for just 6 runs of 20 or more yards, according to ESPN stats. In comparison, Browns running back Nick Chubb earned 11 carries of 20 or more yards himself last year on 298 attempts – nearly doubling the Steelers top three backs. 13 NFL runners earned more 20-yard runs last year than the Steelers trio combined.
In comparison, McFarland has 9 games of his 19 in college with at least one run of 20+ yards (some games had as many as four).
There is a lot more to playing the running back position than just being fast – I certainly understand that. Oftentimes, however, a running back is only going to be as good as what is blocked for them.
Anthony McFarland may not prove to be the best runner on the team as a rookie, but when opportunities arise and holes are created on the ground, I have little doubt that he will be able to do the most with them.