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2011 Draft Prep: Hedging your bets on Mendenhall

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Rashard Mendenhall is going to be good this year. He's just not going to be great. And if you have the chance to draft Isaac Redman with a late-round pick, you should plan on doing so.

Back in February, when the Steelers were set to play the Packers in Super Bowl XLV, I researched running backs who make it all the way to the final game of the season. You can see the results of that research with the interactive visualization below, and it could be a long year for Mendenhall.

The prediction here is he will struggle in 2011.

You see, running backs who played in the Super Bowl the past five seasons haven't exactly fared well the next year. The Packers don't have anything to worry about since they used a backfield by committee following Ryan Grant's ankle injury in Week 1, but Mendenhall could suffer a breakdown. And the reason could be his workload from 2010.

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Over the past five years there were 25 running backs who were significant contributors in helping their teams reach the Super Bowl. Of those 25, 12 saw a decrease in Fantasy points the following season and two did not play again (Jerome Bettis and Reuben Droughns).

In looking at the 10 starters, seven saw a decrease in Fantasy points the following season (Pierre Thomas, Joseph Addai, Willie Parker, Edgerrin James, Laurence Maroney, Thomas Jones and Shaun Alexander). And five suffered significant injuries (Thomas, Reggie Bush, Addai, Maroney and Alexander). Four of the running backs who saw an increase in Fantasy points the following season were injury replacements (Donald Brown, Sammy Morris, Kevin Faulk and Maurice Morris).

The biggest reason for Super Bowl running backs seeing a decrease in production the next year is likely wear and tear. On top of all their carries during the regular season, they get as many as four games worth of additional touches. There were 11 running backs who played in the Super Bowl over the past five seasons that had at least 50 touches in the postseason. For Alexander, he had 370 carries in the regular season in 2005 and then 60 carries in the playoffs. No wonder he couldn't make it through 2006.

Mendenhall had 412 touches last year (385 carries and 27 catches) over 19 games, including 61 carries and four catches in the playoffs. Since he runs between the tackles and thrives on contact, that kind of workload catches up to running backs quickly.

Now, in his defense, he's only 24 and has just two years of work as a starter under his belt, so his body hasn't been beaten up too much in his career. The NFL lockout also helped him with a lack of work in the offseason. He has a favorable schedule this year and the Steelers will feature him at the goal line. He had 1,273 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns last year in the regular season.

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But if you look at Mendenhall's overall body of work from last year, it can be a little deceiving. He had just four games with more than 100 rushing yards, and two of them came when Ben Roethlisberger was suspended for the first four games of the season for violating the NFL's code of conduct policy.

Keep in mind that he had seven games with at least 22 carries and 11 games with at least 18 carries, so the Steelers tried to force feed him the ball. And if you look at his stats with Roethlisberger and without, he averaged 102.8 rush yards when his starting quarterback was suspended and just 72.8 in the 15 games when Roethlisberger was active, including the postseason.

The Steelers also continue to open up the passing game – Roethlisberger has averaged at least 32 pass attempts a game in each of the past two seasons – and they have a dynamic receiving corps with Mike Wallace, Hines Ward and Antonio Brown. The more they throw, the less likely Mendenhall is to rack up stats.

When looking at Mendenhall on Draft Day – he's being drafted at No. 16 overall (Round 2) as the No. 9 running back – he should be taken as a starter because for stretches of the season he will play well. A good comparison is Michael Turner from 2009. He had a heavy workload with 376 carries in 2008, but in 2009 he suffered an ankle injury and played in just 11 games. He still managed 871 yards and 10 touchdowns.

We can definitely see Mendenhall having plenty of positive moments, but there could also be a time where he's resting or out, based on Super Bowl history. And that's where Redman comes in.

If you can draft him with a late-round pick – his Average Draft Position is No. 158 overall (Round 13) – you could be getting a sleeper with plenty of upside. Because if Mendenhall struggles as previous running backs who played in the Super Bowl have recently, then the backup for the Steelers could be a great Fantasy running back this year.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us via Twitter @CBSFantasyFB . You can also follow Jamey at @JameyEisenberg and on Facebook .

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Player News
Coach, Giants WR Josh Huff disagree about injured shoulder
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(11:20 am ET) A bit of discrepancy in regard to the health of Eagles wide receiver Josh Huff between he and Tom Coughlin appears to have arisen.

Huff, who injured his shoulder in Week 2 of the preseason, told ESPN.com he has been healthy for a week-and-a-half and is eager to make his NFL debut. Coughlin, however, reported Wednesday that Huff aggravated his shoulder injury last week in practice and is not ready physically or mentally to return, per the Philadelphia Inquirer.

The rookie has been inactive throughout the year and was listed as questionable heading into the game last Sunday at San Francisco.


Don't get too attached to Darrin Reaves
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(11:19 am ET) Though the Panthers earlier this week declared Darrin Reaves their starting running back by default, they continue to hold out hope that Jonathan Stewart and Fozzy Whittaker, who each missed Week 4 because of injuries, can return Week 5 against the Bears.

Most likely, Fantasy owners aren't especially invested in Reaves anyway. He didn't look good in his first action Week 4 at Baltimore, rushing 12 times for 26 yards. Granted, it was a tough matchup, and he could fare better against the Bears' 22nd-ranked run defense this week, but if either Stewart or Whittaker is active, Reaves won't get a full workload even if he technically does start. Besides, the Panthers haven't produced an especially useful Fantasy running back in years.

It goes without saying you should only start Reaves if you're desperate.


Jordan Cameron looking for a spark
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(11:19 am ET) Browns tight end Jordan Cameron is expected to be in much better shape in Week 5 against the Titans, after a shoulder injury limited him to just one catch in Week 3. Will the bye week help get him going?

One thing working in Cameron's favor is a Titans defense that has struggled to keep up with tight ends this season. The Colts' tight ends scored twice last week, and the Titians have allowed three touchdowns total to that position, leading to the 8.5 Fantasy points per game allowed, the 11th-most in the league.

So far, Cameron has been a major disappointment this season, though hopefully the shoulder injury explains a way most of that. You probably won't feel great about it, given his play so far, but Cameron is a worthy starting Fantasy option for Week 5. 


Andrew Hawkins looking for first score
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(11:16 am ET) Browns wide receiver Andrew Hawkins has been a consistently productive option in the team's passing game so far this season, and will look to keep that going in Week 5 against the Titans.

Hawkins has acquitted himself well so far while serving as the team's No. 1 receiver, with 21 catches for 244 yards through three games. The biggest issue for him has been a lack of red zone productivity, a trend he might have some trouble reversing against the Titans.

Tennessee's defense has allowed just two touchdowns to opposing wide receivers this season, though both came from the No. 1 options in Dallas and Indianapolis in Weeks 2 and 4, respectively. Hawkins will need to make more big plays before Fantasy owners want to trust him, so consider him a risky start for Week 5 until he shows a nose for the end zone. 


Eagles WR Jeremy Maclin back in action Wednesday
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(11:06 am ET) Chip Kelly has announced that Eagles wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, who was sidelined from practice Tuesday with no explanation, is back on the field Wednesday.

Maclin has been on a roll all season with 20 catches for 353 yards and three touchdowns in just four games. He's on pace for career-highs of 1,412 yards and 12 scores.


Bishop Sankey to get more playing time
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(11:01 am ET) Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt said rookie running back Bishop Sankey will get more playing time, starting Sunday against the Browns, reports The Tennessean. Sankey was on the field for 29 snaps Week 4, compared to 22 in Week 3.

In those two games he ran for 95 yards on 16 carries and caught three passes for 32 yards.

"You will see [more reps for Sankey]," Whisenhunt told the paper. "That's coming. And I think you'll see more of that earlier in the game this week.

"I think one of the things that does get lost is that he had more snaps in the game last week than any of our running backs. That game got a little one-sided quickly, so maybe it wasn't as evident, but he was in there earlier."


Eagles FS Malcolm Jenkins earns kudos from coach
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(11:01 am ET) Eagles free safety Malcolm Jenkins, whose thievery has resulted in one interception in each of the last three games, has earned the praise of Chip Kelly.

"We've said since day one, (he) can play anywhere," Kelly told Eagles Insider. "He's been unbelievable since he arrived here."

Jenkins has shown off his range this season. Each of his picks have been snagged on a different part of the field. The veteran has more interceptions in four games this year than he has in any of his five previous full seasons.


So you added Eli Manning. Now what?
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(10:59 am ET) Understandably, Giants quarterback Eli Manning was a popular pickup on the waiver wire this week after throwing four touchdown passes at Washington. He has multiple touchdown passes in three of four games and was considered a Fantasy mainstay just a couple short years ago.

But I'm not sure I buy him as more than a backup in Fantasy. The inconsistency, both from week to week and year to year, is too well established. Honestly, apart from the 2011 season, when he threw for a career-high 4,933 yards and 29 touchdowns, I never thought he was hot stuff anyway. His bad games tend to be really bad and not always so predictable.

Of course, I'd put his chances of having a bad game this week at pretty close to nil. He's home against the Falcons, who just allowed 558 yards of offense to the Vikings, of all teams, and rank 30th against the pass, allowing 276.3 yards per game. If I was a betting man, I'd bet on Manning keeping his multi-touchdown streak alive.

But I'd bet even more on Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Andrew Luck, Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan Philip Rivers, Matthew Stafford, etc. I don't see how you start Eli Manning over any of that group, so I think Jamey Eisenberg's and Dave Richard's ranking of him, even with the favorable matchup, is more or less appropriate.


Bears face solid matchup for Week 5
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(10:57 am ET) The Bears DST unit has had an up-and-down season so far, with the lowlight coming with a miserable 1-point effort against the Packers in Week 4. They are looking to bounce back in Week 5 with the Panthers on the schedule.

The Panthers have lacked a big-play element to their offense, and opposing defenses have taken advantage of that recently. Over the last two weeks, the Steelers and Ravens have combined for 27 Fantasy points against the Panthers, who will likely be without their top two running backs this Sunday as well. That should work out well for a Bears defense that has struggled against the run.

The Bears aren't a great team to rely on defensively, though their greatest weakness might not be exploited this week. They have some appeal as a low-end Fantasy sleeper for Week 5. 


Jay Cutler has a chance to bounce back
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(10:55 am ET) Bears quarterback Jay Cutler will look to bounce back from his worst game of the season when he takes on the Panthers in Week 5.

Cutler tossed six touchdowns without an interception in Weeks 2 and 3, before his two-pick performance against the Packers last Sunday. Still, he came out of the game with 18 Fantasy points, and has tossed at least two touchdowns in each game so far, so it isn't all bad.

He gets to take on a Panthers defense that was badly victimized by the pass last week, as Joe Flacco tossed three touchdowns and racked up 31 Fantasy points against them. The Panthers have yet to hold a quarterback below 15 Fantasy points this season, while allowing multiple touchdowns in three of four games.

As hard as it can be to trust Cutler at times, this is not the time to turn away from him. Both Jamey Eisenberg and Dave Richard consider him a top-12 quarterback for Week 5, so consider him a solid No. 1 option.

 


 
 
 
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