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Player Spotlight: Rashard Mendenhall

A detailed look at Rashard Mendenhall's fantasy prospects for 2013

Setting the Stage

Rashard Mendenhall was born in Skokie, Illinois and attended Niles West High School in his home town. He was an outstanding running back for three consecutive years, totaling over 4,600 yards rushing, over 1,000 yards receiving and scored 73 TDs. He was rated a 4-star by Rivals and a 5-star recruit by Scout. He verbally committed to Illinois after his junior year and stayed with the verbal commitment.

He started off slowly for Illinois and had only 126 carries in his first two seasons for 858 yards, averaging 4.64 ypc. He was also used as a receiver and caught 25 passes for another 246 yards and scored 8 total TDs. He really improved his junior season, rushing 262 times for 1,681 yards (6.2 ypc) and 17 TDs. He also caught 34 passes for 318 yards and 2 TDs and Illinois played in the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1984. Following his very successful junior year, Mendenhall declared for the 2008 NFL Draft.

Even though he ran a 4.45 forty-yard dash, Mendenhall was considered to be a tough inside runner. He was also thought to have good instincts and agility. He was the 4th running back of five taken in the first round and that draft was a very good one for running backs. Surprisingly, the better NFL players went a little later. The first round was led by Darren McFadden at #4 and also included Jonathan Stewart (#13), Felix Jones (#22), Mendenhall (#23), and Chris Johnson (#24). There were several taken much later that have far out-produced most of those first round draftees. Matt Forte was RB6 at #44, followed by Ray Rice RB7 at #55 and Jamal Charles RB9 at #73 overall.

Mendenhall fumbled frequently in the pre-season, but still was used returning kicks and also backing up Willie Parker. Mendenhall got his first start in week 4 (Parker was injured) against Baltimore and rushed 9 times for 30 yards and caught a pass. However, on Mendenhall’s 9th carry, Ray Lewis made the tackle fracturing Mendenhall’s shoulder and sending him to the IR.

Mendenhall recovered in time for the 2009 season and was Pittsburgh’s bell-cow running back for the next three years (09-11), playing well, especially the first two seasons. He finished those three years ranked as RB13, RB7, and RB19. In the next to last game of 2011, he tore his ACL and was again placed on IR.

Mendenhall had a difficult year in 2012, his last year with the Steelers. He missed the first four games, continuing to recover from the knee injury. The fifth game against Philadelphia was his high mark for the year, rushing for 81 yards, catching 2 passes for 20 yards and scoring a TD. He was again injured the next week and only played in four more games. He was also suspended one week for failing to show up for the San Diego game, when he was deactivated.

Mendenhall signed a one-year $2.5 Million contract with the Arizona Cardinals in March and will again be a free agent after 2013.

His career statistics are provided below.

Year Team Gms Rush Yds ypc TDs Targ rec Yds ypc TDs
2008 Pitt 4 19 58 3.1 0 3 2 18 8.5 0
2009 Pitt 16 242 1,108 4.6 7 32 25 261 10.4 1
2010 Pitt 16 324 1,274 3.9 13 33 23 167 7.3 0
2011 Pitt 15 228 928 4.1 9 28 18 154 8.6 0
2012 Pitt 6 52 195 3.8 10 10 8 49 6.1 0
Total   57 865 3,563 4.1 30 106 76 648 8.5 1

Looking Forward to 2013

The Arizona Cardinals are undergoing major change this season. Steve Keim replaces Rod Graves as the General Manager and Bruce Arians, who served as interim head coach last year for Indianapolis is the new head coach. They also have new offensive and defensive coordinators.

Coach Arians has stated that he wants to be balanced and he wants to run the ball, but that they will also take shots down the field. With Carson Palmer at quarterback and with Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, Andre Roberts, and Rob Housler, they definitely have the gun and targets to throw the deep ball.

Arians is very familiar with Mendenhall from their time together in Pittsburgh and it looks like Mendenhall will get the first opportunity to be the lead back. Having an offense that can open it up is always a good thing for a running back.

The negative factor among all this optimism is the Cardinals just do not have a good offensive line. Matt Bitonti sees some positive signs, but the line remains a work in progress. They do get their left tackle, Levi Brown back from injury and they added Jon Cooper with their first round pick.

Positives

  • Mendenhall enters his second season since his knee surgery, so he should be healthier
  • The Cardinals expect to have a solid passing game that could help open up the run game
  • Mendenhall is familiar with the head coach and will get the first opportunity to be the starter

Negatives

  • Arizona’s offensive line has played poorly of late
  • Arizona drafted two rookie running backs (Stepfan Taylor and Andre Ellington) who should at least get an opportunity
  • Mendenhall signed a one-year prove it type contract, so the team is not out much if he falls short

Projections

  Gms Rush Yds ypc TDs Rec Yds ypr TDs
David Dodds 15 200 810 4.0 5 21 149 7.1 1
Bob Henry 14 190 750 3.9 5 15 100 6.7 1
Jason Wood 16 220 900 4.1 8 18 125 6.9 0
Maurile Tremblay 16 166 678 4.1 4 32 248 7.8 1
Stephen Holloway 16 240 960 4.0 5 28 196 7.0 0

Final Thoughts

Mendenhall has had a few personal issues related to not showing up for games and tweeting poorly, but he has played very well in the past and should get an opportunity in 2013. His hold on the starter’s role could be tentative at best, with the one-year deal and two rookie running backs on the roster. Mendenhall’s ADP as RB28 and 70 overall reflects the many questions surrounding him, but if the offense gels and Mendenhall starts off strong, he can easily out-produce expectations for RB28. His will be a training camp that needs to be carefully watched.

Other Viewpoints

Eric Mack on SI.com http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/fantasy/news/20130619/fantasy-football-rashard-mendenhall-mailbag/

Cardinals have their feature running back -- After running exclusively with the first team in OTAs, head coach Bruce Arians declared Rashard Mendenhall the starter going into camp on the NFL Network. "Rashard is just 25 years old ... and I know what he can bring to the table as a runner, a pass protector and also a receiver. He's an every-down player. And I think he's looking forward to having an outstanding season," said Arians. This will put Mendenhall among the top 30 running backs for fantasy, and Ryan Williams (knee), Andre Ellington and Stepfan Taylor will be mere backups.

TheDirtyWord in the Rashard Mendenhall Spotlight Thread http://forums.footballguys.com/forum/index.php?showtopic=683427&p=15702624

I’ve kind of felt the need to re-acquaint myself with Mendenhall because it’s tough to believe that he’s still only 26, and I mean JUST turned 26 (6/19).  He has 864 career carries and is a former 1st round draft choice RB and yet to a certain extent he feels ‘written off’.  He’s being re-united with his old coach in Bruce Arians, a person responsible for his previous success, who seems unequivocally in his corner.  The RB talent on the roster consists of Ryan Williams, Stepfan Taylor and Andre Ellington.  I can’t figure out why Mendenhall is going so low at the moment (RB28 on FFC; 5.07).  It’s not that I feel that he’s going to return to glory, but in an NFL landscape where only 10 RB’s finished with 300+ touches, Mendenhall seems at least destined to approach that total provided he can stay healthy.

FF Ninja in the Rashard Mendenhall Spotlight Thread http://forums.footballguys.com/forum/index.php?showtopic=683427#entry15702519

Mendenhall is entering his 6th NFL season with only 1 season of high per touch production - this occurred 4 seasons ago in 2009. Other than that one season, he's put up a plodder's stats. Now he's moved to a team with one of the worst offensive lines for just a meager $500k in guaranteed money. The Cardinals drafted a couple rookies and have carried over the initially hyped, perpetually injured Ryan Williams. At this point it appears all but certain that Mendenhall will be given first crack at the starting gig, but with so little invested in him, I don't think he'll have any sort of stronghold on the position. His career trajectory leads me to believe he will not hang onto the job for long. If he does maintain the starter's role for 16 games, he'd have a hard time not outplaying his ADP of RB28 even behind such a bad offensive line. Given his attitude last year when he was demoted, I'm not even sure he'll end the season on the Cardinals' roster. I fully expect him to sputter through the first 4-5 games with a sub 4.0 ypc and for Arians to try to find a spark for the running game with one of the younger guys


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