Terps-Steelers Connection Grows Stronger With Anthony McFarland, Antoine Brooks Jr.

The NFL Draft has come and gone, which means a new wave of Maryland Terrapins are entering the pros.

Maryland had two draftees this season, down from four in 2019 but a common number across the last few years. Unlike the last two cycles, when wideout DJ Moore and safety Darnell Savage Jr. went in the first round, the Terps didn’t have a pick until the third day of the 2020 draft.

As of April 27, five Maryland rookies have either been drafted or signed by NFL clubs. Here’s the rundown of who’s going where and who’s still chasing an opportunity.

RB Anthony McFarland — Pittsburgh Steelers (Round 4, Pick 124)

McFarland burst onto the scene as a redshirt freshman in 2018, rushing for 1,034 yards to set the program rookie record. Late in that season, he gashed Indiana and Ohio State for 210 and 298 yards in consecutive weeks. McFarland’s numbers regressed in 2019 as he battled injuries throughout the year, finishing with 614 yards rushing and 126 receiving, although he did record eight rushing touchdowns and nine scores total.

He joins a crowded Pittsburgh backfield with starter James Conner and backups Benny Snell and Jaylen Samuels. Whether or not McFarland sees a notable share of carries, he brings versatility to the position. His 17 catches in 2019 don’t sound like a lot, but on a team that struggled mightily in the passing game, McFarland was one of Maryland’s most reliable weapons. He could also make an impact on special teams despite not being used extensively in that phase with the Terps.

S Antoine Brooks Jr. — Pittsburgh Steelers (Round 6, Pick 198)

It’s been a long road for Brooks, who suffered a grisly injury as a high school senior and was just a two-star recruit when he signed with Maryland in 2016. After playing in a limited role his freshman season, Brooks had his breakout game in 2017 at Texas, returning a blocked kick for a touchdown in the Terps’ upset win. In three seasons as a starter, Brooks finished with 77, 68 and 87 total tackles, racking up 27.5 tackles for loss and four interceptions in his Maryland career.

Brooks played safety his senior season and was listed as a safety during the NFL Draft process, but his best value to the Steelers might come as a nickel corner, where he spent 2017 and 2018. Pittsburgh’s safeties group is headlined by Pro Bowler Minkah Fitzpatrick and former first-rounder Terrell Edmunds, which should leave Brooks battling for rotational playing time as a rookie.

With these two on board, the Steelers are as loaded with Maryland connections as any team in professional sports. McFarland, Brooks, offensive lineman Derwin Gray and defensive lineman Cavon Walker were all teammates with the Terps in 2018. Their interim head coach that year, Matt Canada, joined Pittsburgh’s staff as an assistant this offseason. And Steelers coach Mike Tomlin’s son, Dino, was a freshman at Maryland last season.

Just for good measure, former Terps running back Trey Edmunds is also on the roster (he’s played primarily special teams in the NFL). The connections run so deep that Pittsburgh’s injury-plagued season at quarterback last year feels like a tribute.

Unexpectedly Undrafted

Javon Leake was expected to hear his name called during Rounds 4-7 April 25, but the speedy running back ultimately went undrafted. Ironically, Leake’s 40-yard dash may have been what held him back — he ran a 4.65 at the NFL Scouting Combine and didn’t get a pro day to improve his time. It’s certainly frustrating to wait three days for a call that never comes, especially considering Leake forfeited another year of eligibility to turn pro.

But Leake didn’t have to wait long to find a destination, signing a free-agent contract with the New York Giants. The team already has a crowded backfield, led by Saquon Barkley and featuring Wayne Gallman, Dion Lewis and Jonathan Hilliman. At the very least, Leake has a strong pedigree on special teams, earning Big Ten Return Specialist of the Year honors in 2019. Leake spent his early life in the Bronx before moving to North Carolina as a teenager, so his first professional opportunity doubles as a homecoming.

Other Undrafted Free Agents

Two other Terps signed with NFL squads in the hours following the draft — cornerback Tino Ellis reached an agreement with the New Orleans Saints, while tight end Tyler Mabry signed with the Seattle Seahawks.

Ellis, who missed the latter half of his senior season with a torn pec, reunites with defensive backs coach Cory Robinson, who joined the Saints staff this offseason. Mabry will have his work cut out for him in Seattle, as the Seahawks have three established tight ends (Greg Olsen, Will Dissly, Jacob Hollister) on the roster and drafted two more. But both players now have their chance to impress, whether it lands them a spot on their teams or another opportunity elsewhere.

Linebacker Keandre Jones, meanwhile, announced on his Instagram story April 27 that he’d signed with the Chicago Bears. Jones blossomed in his one season with the Terps after playing three seasons at Ohio State in a limited role. The senior tallied 73 total tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss and seven sacks, ultimately earning himself a shot at the next level.

As of this writing, there’s still a handful of Terps still waiting to join a team. Linebacker Isaiah Davis, cornerback Marcus Lewis and offensive linemen Sean Christie and Ellis McKennie are all seeking to begin their professional journeys soon. All of these players will face uphill battles to make an NFL roster, but sometimes, all it takes is one chance.

Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox

Thomas Kendziora

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