The Pittsburgh Steelers' running game was virtually useless during the season's first month. Luckily, Rashard Mendenhall is expected to make his season debut in Week 5, providing a big boost to the Steelers and fantasy football teams alike.
Mendenhall has been out of action since he suffered an ACL injury in Week 17 last season, but has been practicing fully and Mike Bires of the Beaver County Times reports the dynamic back is expecting a lot of playing time on Sunday.
Normally, fantasy owners would be wise to wait a week to see how Mendenhall reacts. However, the combination of his track record, the poor performances by his backups and the importance of the game means he should be put right into lineups.
Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer are both averaging below three yards per carry, a terrible mark, which means if Mendenhall is able to make it through the first quarter without any setbacks he should resume his role as the team's workhorse.
Mendenhall has averaged nearly 1,300 total yards and 10 touchdowns over the past three seasons as Pittsburgh's undisputed starter. It has made him one of the most reliable running backs in all of fantasy football.
Perhaps more importantly, he only missed one game during that time, which means injury issues shouldn't be a problem moving forward. Once he gets back up to full speed, he should be the same playmaker he was before the injury.
What should fantasy owners do with Mendenhall?
In order for the Steelers to turn things around after a 1-2 start, the running game needs to get moving. That's no secret. So expect Pittsburgh to call a lot of rushing plays early to try and establish that aspect of the offense as a threat.
Ben Roethlisberger is a solid, reliable quarterback, but the team isn't built to win with him being forced to throw the ball 40 times per game. Pittsburgh remains built on its strong defense that has been overexposed through three games.
That's why fantasy owners should be confident Mendenhall will get a full complement of touches in Week 5. The Steelers are going to get back to the basics now that they have a running back they can trust to carry the load.
All told, Mendenhall should be able to approach the 100-yard mark with a touchdown in his return. That's more than enough to be worthy of getting a fantasy starting nod, especially with bye weeks now underway in full force.