Running Back - Illinois
Combine Height: 5-10
Combine Weight: 225
Combine 40 Time: 4.45
Produced 1,999 yards from scrimmage (1,681 rushing, at 6.4 yards a pop) and 19 touchdowns as a junior.
Mendenhall has likely leap-frogged Jonathan Stewart in the race to be the second back off the board, thanks to Stewart’s toe injury. But Rashard has skills of his own: he’s a slashing between-the-tackles runner with the vision to see holes, the burst to get through them, and the top-end speed to run away from defenders. He can also catch the ball out of the backfield and comes to the league with relatively few miles of wear on his tires. Mendenhall posted the best shuttle time among running backs at the Combine and also demonstrated both speed (4.45 40) and strength (26 reps at 225 on the bench press).
However, Mendenhall will have to answer one of the toughest questions scouts around the league are facing this decade: how much of a player’s production is attributable to the spread offense? He also has some issues with fumbling, though he improved in that area from his sophomore to junior season.
Teams in need of a runner—specifically a between-the-tackles runner who brings some speed to the table as well—have their choice between Mendenhall and Stewart. The Panthers have had Rashard in for an interview, and Bears’ management might be run out of town if he’s still on the board at No. 14 and Chicago passes on the local kid. The Lions would love to add a running game now that Mike Martz has left town, and the Cardinals need to start grooming Edgerrin James’ replacement sooner rather than later. It would be a stunning development if Mendenhall were still on the board in the second half of Round One.
Like Stewart, Mendenhall is well situated to make an immediate splash in the NFL. He has the size to be at minimum the thunder (and with it goal-line guy) to an offense that already has lightning, and if he winds up with a full-time job he has the versatility to remain on the field in third down and passing situations. The concern, if you’re banking on red zone touches, is that Mendenhall’s fumblitis might rear its ugly head and convince his pro coach to use a more secure veteran option at the stripe.
Mendenhall clearly has the body to be an every-down workhorse, and ultimately he should fill that roll with his NFL team—or, at worst, handle a Marion Barber-type workload in some sort of split backfield. With running back being the position that most quickly transitions from college start to NFL fantasy helper, Rashard can be expected to produce this season and will be drafted as such. Where he winds up—in a job share in Carolina, being groomed in Arizona, or as the go-to guy in Motown—will dictate if he’s a No. 2 fantasy back as early as this year or a bit more of a long-term investment.