Welcome to another installment of “Over/Under” where I highlight a player and determine some projections based on past tendencies and then state whether I think they will go “over or under.” Projection criteria will be different for each player based on position and situation.
This week’s debate will focus on Rashard Mendenhall. Mendenhall signed with the Arizona Cardinals on March 13th, rejoining former Offensive Coordinator and now Head Coach Bruce Arians. Arians coached Mendenhall his first four years in the league when they were both with the Steelers. For this week’s betting line, I’ve put the projection line at 1,050 yards rushing and 8.5 touchdowns.
The desert wasn’t the best case scenario for Mendenhall’s fantasy outlook. On one hand, reuniting with Arians was a positive. The guy has gone on record multiple times saying he prefers one guy to be the workhorse – he even proved it last year in Indianapolis with Vick Ballard, a less talented running back. The only serious threat to early down work currently on the roster is another injury risk, Ryan Williams.
The opportunity for a serious workload is there for Mendenhall and defenses shouldn’t be able to focus on the run game with mega-stud wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, second year breakout candidate Michael Floyd, Andre Roberts, and DLF favorite Rob Housler at tight end with newly acquired Carson Palmer slinging the rock. Palmer at quarterback should even help Mendenhall set career highs in receptions.
The bad news is the defenses in the NFC West. He will play six games against defenses that finished in the Top 15 against the run last year, the 49ers (4th), Seahawks (10th), and the Rams (15th). The Cardinals offensive line won’t do him any favors either, but they did show marked improvement over the last six weeks of the season and I’m fairly certain it will be addressed even further in the draft.
There doesn’t seem to be a lot of gray area with Mendenhall amongst the fantasy community. You won’t ever hear anyone on the fence with their feeling towards him – they either hate him or see the potential and are comfortable with him as their RB2. His career 4.1 yards per carry isn’t great, but he’s always been a volume type of “grind it out” back, something the Cardinals have desperately needed.
I’ve been a fan of Mendenhall’s throughout his career and I’ve been burnt by him in the past, but I like his opportunity in Arizona for the next couple of seasons. He’ll only be 26 years old when the season kicks off and he will be over a full year removed from his ACL surgery. Truthfully, he shouldn’t have come back as early as he did last year, but with superhuman Adrian Peterson coming back like he did, the pressure was on Mendenhall to return to a troubled Steelers team. Obviously, Mendenhall and Peterson are not on the same talent level, though there might not be anyone on AP’s level, ever.
I look for Mendenhall to take this job and run with it. Ryan Williams’ once promising potential seems to have succumbed to the devastation of a shoulder and patellar tendon injury. The best outlook for him would be a change of pace role inclyding eight-to-ten carries per game. Mendenhall works best when he gets 18+ carries.
I’m going to take the over on yardage and the under on touchdowns. I’m confident he will approach 1,200 yards rushing (75 yards per game) and with Palmer at the helm with those wide receivers, double digit touchdowns aren’t out of the question, but that division will be prohibitive. The 49ers have rarely given up a rushing touchdown under Jim Harbaugh and Vic Fangio; Pete Carroll has the Seahawks’ defense as stout as they come and the Rams are up and coming. Mendenhall will probably finish right at eight touchdowns, but I could easily see him push for the 10-12 range as a competent goal line producer.
The key to Mendenhall’s success will without a doubt be the health of that knee. If he has a setback, all bets are off. If his rehab continues as is he will provide great draft day value. What do you think? Are you taking the over or the under on Rashard Mendenhall finishing with 1,050 yards rushing and 8.5 touchdowns?
Let me know in the comments below.
Eric is on Twitter @OlingerIDP.