Anthony McFarland

Why Mike Tomlin didn't need a traditional draft process to pick Maryland's McFarland, Brooks

Why Mike Tomlin didn't need a traditional draft process to pick Maryland's McFarland, Brooks

Mike Tomlin and the Pittsburgh Steelers couldn’t do the traditional scouting for the 2020 NFL Draft, but he had already seen enough from now-former Terps player Anthony McFarland long before McFarland’s final college season was over. 

So when the Steelers had the chance to pick the running back in the fourth round of the NFL Draft - 124th overall - they knew what type of player they were getting, even if they never went fully through the traditional process due to COVID-19.

“He has the awesome blend of youth and experience. We drafted Derwin Gray from a year ago, man and I remember MacFarland on Derwin’s tape,” he told Mike Locksley on Tuesday’s Late Night With Locks. “So we’re not talking about a guy that had a one-year body of work. We’re talking about a guy that’s played a lot of ball and played on a high level on a big stage and we found comfort in that. He wasn’t a guy that we had to get to know over the 2019 season or hear about. We went into the 2019 season knowing about his exploits and talents, so it made the evaluation process really an easy one.”

Tomlin pointed to his stop-and-go quickness and ability to make big plays. Locksley said he made McFarland return punts throughout the 2019 season to help him get more opportunities for touches throughout his rookie year in the NFL.

Tomlin also praised fellow 2020 Draft pick Antoine Brooks Jr., the team’s sixth-round pick. 

“Much like McFarland, we’re not talking about a one-year body of work,” Tomlin said. “All of us, and I mean us as in the National Football League, had our eyes on [Darnell] Savage a year ago, who understandably went in the first round.

"So you couldn’t watch Savage tape without watching that partner in crime that he had back there. So you went into the 2019 season with anticipation of what this guy was capable of and he delivered.”

In addition to the tape that the team had seen before the 2019 season, Pittsburgh’s quarterback coach, Matt Canada, served as the interim head coach for the Terps in the 2018 season after DJ Durkin was put on administrative leave and then fired.

Stay connected to the Capitals and Wizards with the MyTeams app. Click here to download for comprehensive coverage of your teams.

MORE NCAA NEWS:

Quick Links

Reggie Bush thinks ex-Terp RB Anthony McFarland could be better than Le'Veon Bell

Reggie Bush thinks ex-Terp RB Anthony McFarland could be better than Le'Veon Bell

Former University of Maryland running back Anthony McFarland played just 23 games with the Terps, but what he put on tape during that short span was enough to convince one former star running back that he has the tools to be very successful in the NFL.

Reggie Bush, whose name is included in any shortlist for the best running back in college football history, was asked on Monday about the 2020 running back class during an appearance on Fox Football Now. Bush specifically praised McFarland, who the Pittsburgh Steelers used a fourth-round pick on in April's draft, and thinks the former Terp can be better than a recent Steelers star.

"I think he has the ability to be just as good as Le'Veon Bell, if not better," Bush said.

That's high praise for McFarland, considering Bell is one of the best running backs in Steelers history. During his six seasons with Pittsburgh, Bell made three Pro Bowls and was named first-team All-Pro twice. Only three other Steelers -- Franco Harris, Jerome Bettis and Willie Parker -- have more rushing yards in franchise history.

One thing that stood out to Bush considerably when watching the former Terps star's film was McFarland's big-play ability.

"The kid can flat-out fly," Bush said. "He's explosive. He is a game-breaking type of player."

In an interview with the Redskins Talk podcast prior to the draft, McFarland explained that he, too, feels like he's a home run threat every time he touches the ball.

"No matter where I'm at in the field, I always believe every play is the big play," he said. "And that's the thing about I feel like me playing running back because I feel like literally, every single play is a big play and it can happen anytime."

The best example of this is from McFarland's 2018 outing against Ohio State, without a doubt the best game of his collegiate career. McFarland finished with a career-high 298 rushing yards on 21 carries with two touchdowns, one an 81-yard scamper and the other from 75-yards out.

In Pittsburgh, McFarland is expected to be a complement to James Conner, who has been the team's starter since 2018. Bush believes that the run-style the Steelers use will certainly benefit the rookie in 2020.

"The Pittsburgh Steelers love to run the football. But it's the way they love to run the football, they use those tackles and tight ends and they pull," Bush said. "What that does is for running backs is, if they just get a crease...Anthony McFarland, if he just gets a crease, he's gone."

Stay connected to the Capitals and Wizards with the MyTeams app. Click here to download for comprehensive coverage of your teams.

MORE NCAA NEWS:

2020 Maryland Terps draft roundup: Where McFarland, Brooks and others landed

2020 Maryland Terps draft roundup: Where McFarland, Brooks and others landed

Even after a 3-9 season that ended on a seven-game losing streak, the Maryland Terrapins had a host of draft-eligible prospects that were receiving looks from NFL teams. 

None of those prospects came off the board through the first three rounds of the 2020 NFL Draft proceedings, and those former Terps had to wait until Saturday to see if their names would be called. 

That wait came to an end in the fourth round when the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted running back Anthony McFarland with the No. 124 pick. The Steelers then added another Terp in the sixth round when they chose safety Antoine Brooks Jr. in the sixth round. A host of other former Maryland players signed with NFL teams as undrafted free agents. 

McFarland offers the Steelers another running back as depth behind James Conner. In his three years in College Park, the first of which was a redshirt season, the DeMatha High School product rushed for 1,636 yards and 12 touchdowns. His breakout game was as a redshirt freshman against Ohio State when he ran for 298 yards and two touchdowns. 

"You've got someone with tremendous speed," ESPN NFL analyst Louis Riddick said on the broadcast. "The first thing you see with McFarland is speed. Once he turns the corner and hits those jets, he's gonna take it the distance."

Brooks, meanwhile, was a tenacious defender for the Terps and has the ability to play in a number of different places on defense depending on the personnel. He came to College Park after a gruesome injury in high school nearly ended his career. Now, he joins a franchise known for its defensive dominance. 

As a sixth-round pick, Brooks' initial impact is likely on special teams, where he could be a force.

"He's a phenomenal blitzer who has timing and burst and the ability to finish," NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah said on the broadcast. "You're going to see an outstanding special teams player."

With McFarland and Brooks joining Pittsburgh, there are now five former Terps on the roster. Running back Trey Edmunds, offensive tackle Derwin Gray and defensive tackle Cavon Walker — who just signed after starring in the XFL — preceded the new duo on the Steelers' roster.

The connections between Maryland and the Steelers don't stop there, though. Head coach Mike Tomlin's son, Dino, is a rising sophomore wide receiver in College Park and Pittsburgh's new quarterbacks coach Matt Canada served as the interim head coach at Maryland in 2018 during the fallout after Jordan McNair's death.

Other draft-eligible Terps signed as undrafted free agents after the conclusion of the draft. The most surprising Maryland omission from the draft was running back Javon Leake — who, like McFarland, opted to forego his senior season of eligibility. 

Draft analysts projected Leake as a mid-to-late round selection after the North Carolina native accumulated 2,602 all-purpose yards and 20 total touchdowns during his three years at Maryland. Instead, Leake reportedly signed with the New York Giants as an undrafted free agent.

Tight end Tyler Mabry, who transferred from Buffalo for his season of college football, signed as an undrafted free agent with the Seahawks. And cornerback Tino Ellis, another DeMatha product joining the NFL, signed with the Saints. 

Stay connected to the Capitals and Wizards with the MyTeams app. Click here to download for comprehensive coverage of your teams. 

MORE NCAA NEWS: