Rashard Mendenhall became the feature back in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ dynamic offense in 2009, seizing the job away from Willie Parker who battled turf toe at the beginning of the season. After that, Mendenhall never looked back and the stage is set for 2010.
The Steelers drafted Mendenhall out of Illinois in the first round of the 2008 draft to be the heir apparent to Parker.
Parker, whose contract is now up, will also be entering next season on the wrong side of 30 years old (generally a death note for running backs, Thomas Jones not withstanding).
While there hasn’t been any definitive word yet, all indications point to Parker leaving the Steelers for a team where he can be the feature back, leaving Mendenhall as "the guy" in Blitzburgh.
Mendenhall failed to register double digit fantasy points (non-ppr) in only three of the 13 games in which he was the featured back, yet he rushed for 100+ yards just three times last season as well.
With Polamalu’s return in 2010, the Steelers will try to get back on track with a more balanced attack, eating clock, sustaining long drives, and wearing down the opposing defense. Mendenhall is the perfect back for that sort of game plan.
At 5’10” 225 lbs, Rashard has a huge, powerful frame with the ability to punish defenders and grind out tough yards, but can still make big plays once he gets past the first level of defenders.
Mendenhall isn’t a particularly vital part of the Steelers’ passing game, yielding only 25 receptions last year, although five of those receptions broke for plays of 20 yards or more. I don’t see that changing this year.
The Steelers have a solid core of receivers, anchored by fantasy staples Hines Ward, Heath Miller, and Santonio Holmes. And that's not factoring in the upstart big play waiting to happen...Mike Wallace, who should be on everybody’s radar sooner rather than later.
Bottom line, Mendenhall will be a very low end RB1 next year, in the same class as a Ryan Grant or Cedric Benson. He isn’t going to win you your league (the Steelers’ passing game is too strong for him to be a top 5 monster RB), but he is a safe and reliable option for 2010, and the foreseeable future.
I expect Mendenhall to garner 15-18 carries per game and with his size, he should be able to easily handle that workload, and increase his touchdown output (making him a more reliable and consistent fantasy option). The touchdowns came in waves during the 2009 campaign, but I expect a steadier dose of stripe-crossing in 2010 with a more balanced offense.
While Mendenhall doesn’t have the upside of a spark plug like Jamaal Charles, he is still in a system that suits his strengths, and will lean on him more heavily next season, making him worthy being picked somewhere between picks 10-13 in your 2010 draft
Much of Mendenhall’s value was hurt this year by the fact that the Steelers transitioned to a pass-first team. Often because of the great success they experienced, and at other times out of necessity.
Written by, Marc Tokushige
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