Anthony McFarland isn't afraid of living up to immense expectations, which is why he's choosing to wear No. 26 with the Pittsburgh Steelers. A fourth-round draft pick of the Steelers, McFarland is the first running back to don this number since Le'Veon Bell -- a player he grew up idolizing while in high school and at Maryland.
"I've always been a big fan of Le'Veon Bell," McFarland said, via Chris Adamski of TribLive.com. "He's always been the best running back in the league to me."
McFarland will have some big shoes to fill for the Steelers, a team that ranked 29th in the league in rush offense and rushing touchdowns last season -- which was technically their first without Bell (Bell held out in 2018 over a contract dispute). The Steelers had just 90.4 rush yards a game and seven touchdowns in 2019.
James Conner suffered knee and shoulder injuries last season and only played 10 games, so there will be an opportunity for McFarland to make an impact. 2019 fourth-round pick Benny Snell averaged just 3.9 yards per carry in his rookie season in 13 games while Jaylen Samuels had just 2.7 yards per carry. There will be opportunities for McFarland to earn carries in his rookie campaign, perhaps as the featured back in an offense that ended up 30th in total yards last year.
The Steelers have been unable to replace Bell in their offense, even though Conner had 973 yards and 12 touchdowns in the year Bell held out (2018). Ben Roethlisberger's injury had a lot to do with Pittsburgh's struggles in the ground game, but the Steelers still wanted to add some explosiveness to the running back position.
This is where McFarland comes in. McFarland rushed for 1,034 yards and four touchdowns (7.9 yards per carry) in his redshirt freshman season at Maryland, but those numbers dipped to 614 yards and eight touchdowns (5.4 yards per carry) last season.
Playing behind a professional offensive line will benefit McFarland, who wants to live up to Bell's reputation on the field with the Steelers. Over his five seasons in Pittsburgh, Bell had 5,336 rushing yards and 2,660 receiving yards, averaging 5.2 yards per touch.
Some pretty high expectations that McFarland is ready for.
"I watch his game, I study his film as somebody who's been a great back in the league for a long time," McFarland said. "It's definitely me looking up at him and not a sign of disrespect."