The Steelers Signing of McNichols Puts Pressure on Anthony McFarland: Thoughts on the Running Backs

By Jeremy Hritz

The Steelers made a roster move yesterday in signing Jeremy McNichols, running back drafted out of Boise State in 2017 by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. McNichols played with the Titans in 2021 and had 41 carries for 156 yards (3.8 YPC), in addition to 28 receptions for 240 yards. He offers versatility at the position, which fits the Steelers desire to find a complimentary 3rd down back who can be both a running and receiving threat. I keep mentioning Mewelde Moore on the Study Session, as he is the type of player the Steelers are looking for to add a unique element to the running back room, as they have not found it in Anthony McFarland.

The signing of McNichols now makes the running back competition even more intriguing this training camp, as it puts more pressure on McFarland, in addition to the undrafted rookie free agents in Jaylen Warren and Mataeo Durant. Bennie Snell should not be impacted by the signing because he figures into the offense as Najee Harris’s backup, with the sole purpose of lifting some of the carries to keep Harris fresh. Not to say that Snell is above average, but he is serviceable and has shown that he can fill in modestly and at least keep the running game engine, well… running.

The Same, Yet Different

I’m not making the argument that McNichols and McFarland are identical types of runners, but they fit the mold of what the Steelers are looking for in their 3rd down runner. McFarland obviously possesses more speed, but lacks the football instincts and agility that McNichols has. Prior to the signing of McNichols, I did not have McFarland making the roster, and now, I’m even more confident in that prediction.

In terms of Warren and Durant, they will now have a steeper hill to climb to show that they can make the 53-man roster. If anything, their best case scenario is the practice squad (one, not both), after exemplary play this training camp and preseason. UDRFA runners have the tendency to surprise at times, and that could be the case with either of these young backs, but realistically, the 53 is out of reach.

Or is it? The only other way to the roster is by showing either can be a true #2 and by pushing Snell. And while Snell isn’t spectacular, he is a known commodity, and it would take truly a special performance from Warren or Durant to make this happen.

There is no question the Steelers running game is in great hands with second-year runner Harris, and finding, cultivating the complimentary pieces to enhance this element of the offense is critical to the team’s success. Much of this will depend on the improvement of the offensive line, but the running back room must show growth and competitiveness to put the best product on the field come the season opener against the Bengals.

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