When the Pittsburgh Steelers selected Maryland’s Anthony McFarland in the fourth round of the 2020 NFL Draft, it immediately raised some question marks for fantasy football. With the Steelers already having a very crowded backfield, how would the addition of McFarland affect the balance? Would it hurt the value of the likes of James Conner, Benny Snell Jr., and Jaylen Samuels? Could McFarland be fantasy relevant competing for touches with three more experienced backs than himself?
Through the first two weeks, McFarland had been inactive, but Week 3 saw him make his debut, which raised these questions all over again. Let’s take a look at how much playing time McFarland got in Week 3, how he performed for the Steelers, and whether that means he is a player worth investing in for the 2020 fantasy football season.
How much did Anthony McFarland Jr. see the field in Week 3?
The simple answer is not all that much. McFarland was in the game for just 10 (12%) of the Steelers offensive snaps. Those 10 snaps were the only action McFarland saw, as he did not contribute at all on special teams. However, what is worth noting is that on those 10 snaps, McFarland saw opportunities to make plays on eight of them, with six carries and two targets. That would suggest that while the Steelers did not use him heavily when he is on the field, he is likely to be involved in one way or another.
Whose playing time did McFarland eat into?
After not playing in the first two weeks and then making his debut in Week 3, it is interesting to see which other back saw a decrease in workload with the appearance of Anthony McFarland. Week 1’s snap share was somewhat messed up with Conner leaving with an injury. Therefore, we can lean on Week 2 and see that Conner was in the game for 77% of the snaps, with Snell seeing 15% and Samuels just eight percent.
In Week 3, McFarland took 12% of those snaps and it was Conner who was the player that lost out. Conner’s snap count dropped from 77% down to 66%, Samuels held firm at eight percent, and Snell saw a slight increase to 19%. That extra five percent of snaps that the running back room gained was because Pittsburgh went from having used at least two running backs on just 14 total plays through the first two weeks and then upped that to 10 plays in Week 3 alone.
Part of the reason that Conner may have seen a dip in his snap count is that for the majority of the game, the Steelers were trailing in Week 3 after having been leading for the majority of their Week 2 game. Whether we see that pattern replicated in future games when the Steelers are either leading or trailing will be interesting to observe. If Conner losing time to Anthony McFarland becomes a regular situation, then Conner’s fantasy value could become unstable through the remainder of the 2020 season.
How did Anthony McFarland perform in Week 3?
The game against the Texans was solid, if not overly impressive, fantasy performance for McFarland as he managed 42 rushing yards and one reception for seven yards on his six carries and two targets. He ended the game with 5.9 fantasy points, which is almost exactly what would be expected for a running back receiving the limited opportunities that he did.
Is McFarland a player to invest in moving forward in fantasy football?
With how crowded the Steelers backfield is, investing a lot of capital in Anthony McFarland does not appear to be a wise move in redraft fantasy leagues. His jump from being inactive to 10 snaps is a positive sign but there is no guarantee we see this role increase while Conner, Snell, and Samuels are healthy. If you can obtain McFarland for a minimal investment, then it could be a decision that makes a big payoff.
In dynasty leagues, this is certainly a promising start for the rookie. The futures of Conner, Snell, and Samuels are all uncertain in Pittsburgh and this could be McFarland’s backfield in 2021 and beyond. However, after his Week 3 debut, the price may have risen slightly. However, given the promising start we saw, it may be worth the investment if he can still be obtained for a late-round future pick or depth option on your bench.