The 25-year-old back struggled throughout much of 2011, going over the 100-yard plateau just twice while failing to reach 1,000 yards for the first time as the primary rusher. Nevertheless, it's how Mendenhall's season ended that gives the most pause to fantasy owners for 2012.
In the regular season's final game against the Cleveland Browns, Mendenall tore his ACL and has yet to be cleared for full contact.
With Mendanhall activated but doubtful for the Steelers' Week 1 contest (via ESPN), we're here to give you everything you'll need to know about the Pittsburgh back headed into your fantasy draft.
What Round Should You Take Mendenhall?
According to ESPN.com's live draft results, you may not even have to take Mendenhall at all, depending on the size of your league.
With an average draft position of 136.3, Mendenhall is currently a 12th-round pick in 12-team leagues and a 14th-rounder in 10-teamers. Nevertheless, Mendenhall is only owned in 53.6 percent of standard leagues. If your league is particularly averse to injury-prone players, the Steelers running back may even last until the waiver wire.
Luckily for you, that means you will have plenty of time to draft reliable starters before considering Mendenhall. If you think he'll be effective when he gets back, the Pittsburgh back could be a perfect player to stash on the bench.
Injury Assessment/Latest News
Though Mendenhall was in uniform for the Steelers' last preseason game against the Carolina Panthers, he had no shot of playing and is still practicing on a limited basis (via the Beaver County Times).
Running backs coming back from ACL tears are always dicey, as Mendenhall is far more prone to hurting his knee than ever before. Throughout history we have seen even the best rushers in the league lose their legendary explosion due to the devastating injury.
As it currently stands, I wouldn't expect to see Mendenhall on the field before October. He's too valuable to the Steelers going forward and it's not worth risking his career to put him in before he's 100 percent.
Even if Mendenhall somehow makes it back to the field in September, he won't be fully healthy. With that in mind, it's likely that Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin will limit his carries accordingly.
Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer are both serviceable replacements who give the Steelers comfort in allowing Mendenhall to heal as much as possible.
I wouldn't expect to see the fifth-year back start any more than 10 contests, and with the team trying to lighten his workload, getting to 500 yards would be a godsend.
Projected Stats: 500 total yards, four touchdowns
The Steelers have a Week 4 bye, so that could mean Mendenhall misses just the first three games of the season. That can only mean good things if you're high on Mendenhall for when he comes back.
If you want Mendy, that bye week could give him a full extra round of value for you.
Isaac Redman was exemplary in the Steelers' backup role in 2011 and is the favorite to takeover the primary workload while Mendenhall sits out.
That all was expected.
However, the emergence of Jonathan Dwyer in the preseason throws a huge monkey wrench into the entire Pittsburgh running back situation. The former Georgia Tech back has impressed Tomlin throughout camp and played well enough in the exhibition season to get a significant look early in 2012.
If Dwyer or Redman has a particularly strong start to the season, Mendenhall may never reclaim his starting spot.
At the very least, it's a fluid situation that should be paid attention to by all Mendenhall owners.
Players to Take Before Rashard Mendenhall
Considering Mendenhall is currently the 48th running back being taken in ESPN.com standard leagues, the pickings are rather slim that late in the draft.
Nevertheless, there are still a couple late-bloomers I would rather take a shot on. Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan seemingly picks a new running back a week, so both Alfred Morris and Evan Royster are worthy of a flier.
In addition, post-hype sleeper Mikel Leshoure could be the steal of your entire draft if Detroit Lions starter Kevin Smith goes down with injury.
Players to Take After Rashard Mendenhall
Again, at this stage of the draft, you're looking to take a shot and strike gold. Regardless, I would still rather have Mendenhall than Pierre Thomas, James Starks and Shane Vereen, all guys going ahead of or in the same area as the Steelers back.
Even with the knee injury hampering his value, Mendenhall at 60 percent will almost surely have more fantasy value than each of those guys listed.
If you can get Mendenhall in rounds 12-15, he could become one of the biggest late-round values in 2012.
However, the uncertainty surrounding his knee injury and the Steelers running-back situation are both huge risk factors.
If there is a voracious Steelers fan in your league who wants to grab the Pittsburgh back earlier than his current value, pass him up and don't think twice.
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