Being the starting running back in Arizona just makes far too much sense for Rashard Mendenhall, which is probably why there was some doubt as to whether or not he’ll rise to that plateau with little challenge. It’s in our nature to doubt things which seem simple, because caution is the way of the football mind, especially as it applies to fantasy footballing pursuits.
Oh, and especially when we’re discussing a running back who tore his ACL at the end of the 2011 season, and then he took the anti Adrian Peterson and Jamaal Charles route in his comeback. Mendenhall missed 10 games this past season due to various setbacks (most notably, Achilles tendinitis), which restricted him to only 51 carries and 60 touches overall.
Wise men claim that time heals wounds, and Mendenhall has had plenty of that tonic now. But despite Peterson’s heroics, we’ve seen plenty of circumstances over the years in which a running back isn’t quite the same again after an ACL tear. So yes, there was reason for doubt when the Cardinals signed Mendenhall to a classic one-year “prove it” deal, and it grew when they invested two draft picks in the running back position (a fifth-round pick on Stefan Taylor, and a sixth rounder on Andre Ellington).
And now, Bruce Arians would like to kill that doubt, and send the demon back to hell.
Arians was once the offensive coordinator for the Pittsburgh Steelers. That’s an important detail, because Mendenhall is now a former Steeler, and Arians is his new head coach. And in that capacity while he made an appearance on NFL AM this morning, Arians said these glowing words, adding that there’s “no doubt” Mendenhall is his starting running back:
“Rashard is just 25 years old (turns 26 on Wednesday). He took me personally to a Super Bowl, and I know what he can bring to the table as a runner and 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.”
During the aforementioned before time when we thought Taylor or Ellington or William Powell or Ryan Williams would challenge Mendenhall and a time share could develop, the 26-year-old’s versatility was a source of concern in addition to the obvious durability worries. He was Arians’ primary running back on two Super Bowl teams in Pittsburgh in 2009 and 2011, and combined in those two seasons he had 2,481 all-purpose yards with 17 touchdowns. But his role on passing downs has often been moderate at best, as throughout his career Mendenhall has averaged only 11.6 receiving yards per game.
That’s why there was the thought that one of the Cardinals’ faster backs who isn’t a north-south runner could eat away at a few carries. But Arians has tossed that aside, meaning now in an offense that finally has a respectable quarterback in Carson Palmer and the Cards still employ Larry Fitzgerald, Mendenhall could quickly become a fine RB2 in standard fantasy leagues.
His current ADP at FantasyPros projects Mendenahall as an RB whose injury and performance risk is mitigated nicely by cost, as he’s hovering around 70th overall. That also makes him the 26th player off the board at his position, behind rookies (or nearly rookies) like Le’Veon Bell, Lamar Miller, and Montee Ball.
Barring any breakage, Mendenhall may become one of the best sources of late-round value, or at least as late as it gets at a position where supply is always dwarfed by demand.