NFL Draft: Maryland’s Anthony McFarland Jr. is the X-Factor

Anthony McFarland Jr. has game-breaking speed and provides next-level burst. He's the X-Factor on a Maryland team looking to compete in a wide open Big Ten.

Freshman year –  Bursting on the scene

After redshirting his first year at Maryland, Anthony McFarland Jr. burst on to the scene last year. McFarland rushed for 1034 yards and 4 touchdowns on only 131 rushes. That’s a ridiculous 7.9 yards per carry. Seemingly anytime he touched the ball, he was breaking it loose. Maryland’s offense as a whole was a bit of a let down last year, but McFarland refused to let that damper his season and was named to the second team All-Big Ten team, and he was also a freshman All-American. He made a case for himself as a prospect to watch for in the NFL Draft.

Sophomore year – Making Maryland matter

Coming into this season, McFarland was the Terrapins most distinguished offensive presence and came in with the intent to lead a new-look, explosive offense. So far, they’ve delivered. In two games so far this season, Maryland has scored a total of 142 points. Last season, it took Maryland 5 weeks to reach that total, despite the fact that they played two games against non-Power 5 teams. 

While Maryland’s offense is as explosive as it’s ever been, they’ve done it with a dip in production from their star running back. Through two games, McFarland has 23 total touches and 152 yards from scrimmage. However, a lack in total yardage is slightly masked by an increase in trips to the endzone. In eleven games last season, McFarland scored 4 total touchdowns. He has 5 in two games this season.

Defenses are zeroing in on McFarland, but it’s left other players free to do whatever they please. The passing offense has a seen a dramatic increase in productivity, and secondary back Javon Leake has been a constant producer this season. Much of this can be credited to McFarland and the attention he demands.

Even though two weeks is a very small sample size, it’s impossible to ignore what Maryland has done. After wiping the floor with Howard, they defended their home turf against #21-ranked Syracuse, a team many including myself believed to be the second best in the ACC. How they play over the next two weeks will tell us what kind of team they really are. They travel to Philadelphia to play a very competitive Temple team that has two weeks to prepare for them. After that, they’re at home against #13-ranked Penn State. If Maryland is to win both these games, it will be on the back of their X-Factor. Can he continue to lead this offense and continue to rise up NFL draft boards?

The X-Factor

McFarland has elite burst. We’re talking about burst that rivals some of the running backs currently sitting atop of the 2020 class. Including Clemson’s Travis Etienne. It’s not every day you get a freshman rusher average 8 yards a carry and rush for over 1000 yards. For perspective, Etienne only rushed for 766 yards as a freshman, averaging 7.1 yards per carry. A whole yard less than McFarland. This isn’t to say McFarland is better, but it shows you just how crazy the numbers he put up were.

In this new season, McFarland has struggled to find the same success he had last year. However, I have no doubt he’ll find his groove as the season progresses. He’s always one touch away from scoring, and if teams decide to focus on neutralizing him, his team will continue to reap the benefits.

Looking toward the NFL Draft

McFarland is the kind of back that slips down boards, due to a lack of name recognition and school history. Maryland isn’t an an NFL prospect powerhouse. It’s not Clemson or Alabama. However, I’m confident that whatever team takes McFarland will get a steal. In a tweet posted on Sunday night, I said I’d rather take McFarland on Day 3 than Etienne on Day 1, and I meant it.

McFarland has a blend of elite second-level speed and his acceleration and burst are toward the top of the class. He runs with great vision and makes strong cuts with suddenness and decisiveness. He’s also very slippery with the ball in his hands, and shows promise as a receiver. McFarland does have a chance to drop to Day 3 because he lacks ideal size, standing at just 5’9 and weighing in at less than 200 pounds. He also lacks receiving production, something someone of his stature is expect to have.

That said, Anthony McFarland is a legit NFL prospect, with X-Factor burst and acceleration. Will he and the Maryland offense be enough to truly contend in the Big Ten? That remains to be seen.