James Conner’s role as the Steelers starting RB is his, but it’s far from cemented. While Mike Tomlin is looking forward to Conner being his featured back once again, Conner’s had three seasons in a row where injuries have plagued him. FBInjuryDoc on Twitter (Dr. Edwin Porras) noted that Conner has had more trouble finishing games as the seasons have went on, which can be troublesome moving forward.
Tomlin stated that Benny Snell can be a featured guy if Conner was unavailable, but Snell isn’t really someone who can be dependable in the passing game. You also have Jaylen Samuels, who isn’t dependable in the run game. When Tomlin has had featured backs, they’re involved in all facets of being a RB.
Enter 4th-round rookie Anthony McFarland, who can contribute right away as a pass catcher, but is underrated in the running game. If anyone is the most versatile of the rest of the RB room behind Conner, it’s McFarland. He’s not a big guy, but to give you an idea, he’s about the same size as Devonta Freeman, and about 20 pounds heavier than Phillip Lindsay. So don’t let his size fool you… he runs low to the ground and is physical. He is decisive and can run hard through the tackles, and can make big plays in the open field.
I would pay attention to camp and whether McFarland is making any noise, and where McFarland is on the pecking order in preseason games. If he’s anywhere near the 2, or competing for the 2 spot with Benny Snell or Jaylen Samuels, I would keep him on my watch list as someone to potentially grab for upside either late in my draft or if Conner gets hurt. If he’s not making any waves, Tomlin mentioning Snell being a potential Conner replacement earlier this month would make me lean in his direction if Conner were to get hurt.