Running back Rashard Mendenhall is a former first-round draft pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2008 NFL draft, and he’s a good player.
Listed at 5′ 10″ and 230 pounds, the former Illinois star is an extremely powerful back with surprising foot quickness, as he posted a surprising 4.45 40-yard dash at the NFL combine in 2008 as well as posting a phenomenal 26 reps on the 225-pound bench press. Mendenhall has a tremendously powerful body with very strong legs that has the ability to drive the pile when needed and has the home run ability. Mendenhall has the speed (the threat) to break long runs.
Coming out of Nile West High School in the state of Illinois, Mendenhall was a five star recruit and was regarded as the premier recruit coming out of high school in the state of Illinois. He was also one of the top four running backs coming out of high school nationally.
In his junior season Mendenhall posted phenomenal numbers, as he accumulated 1,832 yards and 19 touchdowns, averaging over 11 yards per carry (YPC). During his senior season Mendenhall did not quite match his incredible performance as a junior. However, with 1,453 yards and 14 touchdowns, averaging more than 9.0 YPC, it was more than enough for him to be regarded as one of the premier backs in the country.
Mendenhall verbally committed to the University of Illinois after his junior year, spurning scholarship offers from several other schools. Mendenhall was set on staying in his home state so he could play with his older brother with the Fighting Illini.
After redshirting his first year in 2004, Mendenhall was the third string running back the following year. As a red shirt freshman (in 2005) he played in 10 games gaining 218 yards on 48 carries and managing 13 receptions and 82 yards and scoring twice. During his sophomore campaign (2006) he was second on the depth chart behind Pierre Thomas and second on the team with 640 yards rushing and averaging 8.2 yards per carry. His 8.2 yards per carry was tops in the big 10.
In 2007, with his first opportunity to become a starter, Mendenhall became Big Ten player of the year, setting school records with 1681 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns. Mendenhall also set a school record with 1,999 all-purpose yards. After Mendenhall’s tremendous junior campaign he opted to go pro (in 2008), and he was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the first round.
During his first two seasons with the Steelers, Mendenhall gained at least 1,000 yards or more in offensive coordinator Bruce Arians’ (now head coach of the Cardinals) offensive system. Unfortunately, in the latter part of the 2011 season, Mendenhall tore his ACL, cutting his season short. Prior to tearing his ACL in 2011, Mendenhall was having a solid season and almost eclipsing the century mark with 928 yards.
After a quick recovery, which took approximately nine months, Mendenhall made it back for the 2012 season. However, once he was back in the fold, Mendenhall did not have the type of production that he had prior to the injury, only producing 182 yards on 51 carries. Most people believe it was perhaps Mendenhall coming back a bit too soon from his injury and not being at full strength.
After the 2012 season, Mendenhall opted to become a free agent. After a prior visit with the Denver Broncos, during the recent free agency period (2013), Mendenhall chose to follow Arians (formerly with the Steelers) and sign with the Arizona Cardinals.
Mendenhall is a big and powerful back with surprising foot quickness. Arians, mentioning after the Mendenhall signing said “for a guy that is 230 pounds he has the foot quickness of a 180-pound player.” It is my belief that Mendenhall is a perfect fit for Arians’ offensive system. As he loves a back that can play all three downs and is a good blocker in pass protections, which he will be able to provide. Arians is also not a fan of rotating backs in the back field. Mendenhall is also very familiar with Bruce Arians offensive system, so he should not miss a beat. Furthermore, Mendenhall should be back at full strength now that he has had time to fully recover from the ACL tear that he had late in the 2011 season.
Look for Mendenhall to hold on to the starting position early on (this year) because of his familiarity with Arians offense system and the trust that Arians has with him. Also look for Ryan Williams to spell Mendenhall from time to time. With Mendenhall’s familiarity in Arians systems, this will give Arians time to groom his recent NFL draft picks in running backs Stepfan Taylor and Andre Ellington.
If his health, which is a big question mark, doesn’t hold him back, look for Mendenhall to have his third 1,000-plus yard season of his career. With a successful season in the running game, this should open up Carson Palmer and the passing attack. Look for the Cardinals to have a balanced attack and a dynamic passing game, created by the threat of Mendenhall coming on of the back field.