With fantasy football rankings on everyone's mind, Rashard Mendenhall is someone to keep tabs on.
Sure, in fantasy or reality, Mendenhall does not hold the same weight as Adrian Peterson, Chris Johnson, or even Ray Rice.
But think about that last name for a minute. How lucky were you to take a flier on Rice last season, and did you ever think he would be listed as a Top Five running back?
The same logic cannot necessarily be applied to Mendenhall, who is considered a fringe Top Ten back in many rankings, which Rice never could have dreamed of heading into last season. But could Mendenhall be undervalued?
Entering his third season, Mendenhall still doesn't have a full body of work to compare to your other primary fantasy backs, but you have to like what you see from the guy.
Heading into Week Four last year, Mendenhall only had seven carries under his belt. When it was all said and done, he had 1,108 rushing yards and seven touchdowns. He also had 25 catches for 261 yards and a touchdown.
Those numbers don't blow you away, but with a full season under his belt and the starter's job firmly in his possession, Mendenhall is poised to knock on the Top Five door of fantasy running backs.
Mendenhall will have four weeks to firmly establish himself and get into a flow with Ben Roethlisberger sitting out. Teams will probably stack the box, hampering his numbers a little bit, but that will even out with the amount of touches he gets.
Also expect whoever the Week One starter is to utilize Mendenhall as a safety valve at receiver a lot. He has a lot of work to catch up to Rice in terms of receiving prowess, but he showed some signs last year of being able to take the next step.
Once Big Ben comes back, watch out. Mendenhall's numbers will only increase as the field opens up.
With the potential for 350 total touches, about 100 more than last year, expect Mendenhall to blossom.
Everyone has their eyes set on a target for their first-round pick, but the odds are that several of them will flame out or at least disappoint relative to their draft position. Think Matt Forte, Marion Barber, LaDainian Tomlinson, and Clinton Portis. All were considered Top Ten backs by at least one guy out there, and all probably cost their owners a fantasy crown last year.
In fantasy, it pays to think outside of the box and look to the future rather than the past.
Mendenhall is a guy to pick a little higher than expected and who could reward you with a Top Five season at running back.