(percentile rank among all RBs at Combine since 1999, courtesy of Mockdraftable.com):
40-yard dash: 4.44 seconds (86th percentile)
Vertical: 29.5 inches (4th)
Broad: 116 inches (34th)
McFarland broke his right fibula in a scrimmage just before his senior season of high school ball and sat out the year. That didn’t stop him, though, from being a 4-star recruit -- consensus top 60 nationally -- and wading through a multitude of offers that included Clemson, Alabama, Oklahoma and Ohio State. McFarland ultimately chose Maryland to stay close to home while continuing to work back from the leg fracture. That rehab forced him to redshirt as a 2017 freshman.
McFarland delivered once he got onto the field, though. He quickly overtook 2017 carry co-leaders Ty Johnson (now a Detroit Lion) and Lorenzo Harrison to lead the Terps in rushing attempts. McFarland broke LaMont Jordan’s school record for rushing yards by a freshman, earning freshman All-American and 2nd-team All-Big Ten honors along the way.
The new guy proved explosive, taking 39 of his 131 carries for 10+ yards. McFarland only reached double-digit attempts in 4 of 12 games but racked up huge late-season outings against Indiana (29-210-0 rushing) and Ohio State (21-298-2). His performance against the Buckeyes -- just McFarland’s 3rd start in his 11th game -- included runs of 75, 81 and 52 yards. (We’ll check them out in the next section.)
McFarland’s 2019 got disrupted early by a high ankle sprain. He sustained the initial injury amid a big Week 3 performance at Temple (14-75-2 rushing, 2-45-1 receiving) and then played through it for 3 games.
After aggravating it against Purdue, McFarland sat out a game. He then returned ... reportedly at “100 percent.” But the results suggest otherwise.
McFarland averaged only 9.6 carries per game over the final 5 contests, in a backfield that lost 2 other RBs to knee-ligament injuries mid-season. He led the Terps in rushing attempts in just 3 of those contests and posted limited production before a season-ending 8-134-1 rushing line against Michigan State.
Despite his 2019 limitations, McFarland elected to enter the NFL Draft and leave behind 2 years of college eligibility.
(Courtesy of WhatsOnDraftNFL)
Games watched: Ohio State 2018, Minnesota 2018, Indiana 2018, Syracuse 2019, Temple 2019, Nebraska 2019
After looking at McFarland’s limited college exposure and a fairly crowded RB group in this year’s draft, I couldn’t help but wonder why the ex-Terrapin would enter the draft.
Then I watched him.
What jumps out immediately: The kid has got juice …
Those were his 4 biggest runs from that aforementioned 2018 Ohio State contest. It obviously doesn’t take a special back to zoom through a wide-open hole. But even on the easiest of attempts, you can see that McFarland has a different gear than most RBs.
In that 3rd clip, he nearly outran a DB with a good pursuit angle to take another to the house. And that final OSU clip shows some of the jittery power than McFarland displays.
He doesn’t just run fast. He’s a high-energy runner ...
… with good leg drive.
I didn’t see elite agility in the games I watched (though McFarland’s speed at times keeps him from encountering situations when he would need to use it).
In a few spots, McFarland seems slow to plant and cut. Although he managed to reach the end zone on this run against Syracuse last year, you can see a bit of a stutter to his stop before he redirects upfield.
Of course, that’s not to say McFarland displays poor agility. He can cut.
It just might not be an elite trait of his. (Unfortunately, we didn’t get a 3-cone time from him.)
McFarland can also make up for some lack of agility with quick build-up speed out of his cuts.
Or from an awkward handoff that finds him standing still.
I didn’t see a lot of receiving reps in the 6 games I watched -- which shouldn’t be surprising, given that he only caught 24 balls at Maryland. But the opportunities I did see showed a RB who looks comfortable catching passes.
And, of course, when you can do this after the catch, coaches are probably going to try you in the passing game.
Maryland lined McFarland up in the slot a fair amount, but I saw only 1 target in his vicinity from that spot. Similarly, I saw a number of pass-blocking reps but didn’t come away with any strong feeling about that facet. It seems at least worth noting that McFarland has experience in pass protection and looked willing as a blocker.
It’s also worth noting for his versatility that McFarland’s high school coach planned to use him in the backfield, in the slot and on defense in that ill-fated senior season.
Why would McFarland leave school after such limited exposure rather than take 1 more year to try to really turn it on? I have to imagine his decision included some positive feedback from the NFL’s College Advisory Committee. And he has to know the NFL shelf life at RB isn’t great.
The fact that we only saw this guy for 269 college touches certainly challenges the evaluation. Within just the past 4 years, McFarland has lost 2 seasons to a broken leg and seen a high-ankle sprain hamper a 3rd.
So is he a significant injury risk? Maybe. We’ve learned through Sports Injury Predictor, though, that young RBs collectively present more risk for missing games than NFL-veteran backs do.
Does McFarland need to land in the right system, one that will create space for him to operate rather than forcing him to diagnose lanes and outwork defenders? Maybe.
Does he head toward the draft with as much upside as anyone outside the top 4-5 RBs in this class? Quite possibly.
McFarland would be a high-risk pick anywhere in the first 2 rounds of a typical 12-team dynasty rookie draft. But beyond that, we’re hunting primarily for upside. And this guy definitely checks that box. He’s not going to be an NFL workhorse, but today’s league sports very few of those.
The final piece -- which could be more meaningful for McFarland than other, higher-exposure backs in this class -- is draft capital. Will he go sometime in the middle of Day 3 -- or even Round 7? Will he go late Round 3 or early Round 4 to a team willing to take a chance? That figures to impact our outlook.
I head into the NFL Draft anxious to find out.