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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
Eagles coach Chip Kelly: Tim Tebow not just a camp arm
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(5/3/2015) Eagles coach Chip Kelly thinks Tim Tebow could eventually develop into a quarterback and isn't just a camp arm, as Mark Sanchez said last month, according to NFL.com.

Tebow was signed in April as the fourth quarterback on the roster after the team traded for Sam Bradford and re-signed Sanchez.

"No, I think everybody here that we bring to our organization is here to compete for a job," Kelly said. "That's what Timmy is going to do. He's an unbelievable competitor. ... If we were just going to have guys throw drills, we'd take (Mike) Mayock in the offseason and bring him down here and let him throw to them."

Tebow hasn't played in the league since 2012.


Cowboys RB Darren McFadden maybe used as kick returner in 2015
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(5/3/2015) Cowboys running back Darren McFadden could see an expanded role next season, as a kick or punt returner, according to the Dallas Morning News.

Wide receiver Dwayne Harris left during the offseason for the Giants, leaving a vacant spot in the return game.

"We have some guys we feel who can go return right now both punt returners and kickoff returners," coach Jason Garrett said. "And hopefully we'll get a chance to bring some guys in college free agent type guys we targeted as well. We like the guys we have and we feel like we can go play right now with them and also create some competition with some younger guys."

McFadden was a kick returner for the Raiders in 2014 where he had three returns for 59 yards.

"He certainly could," Garrett said. "He's done it in his past."


Jersey No. 11 holds significance for Texans WR Jaelen Strong
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(5/3/2015) Texans wide receiver Jaelen Strong was pegged as a potential first-round pick entering the 2015 NFL draft. 

However, he had to wait quite a while in the green room to hear his name called. In the third round, the Texans took Strong, a productive wideout at Arizona State. Strong, surprised at the fall in the draft, picked a jersey number to remind himself of what happened to him. 

Strong was the 11th receiver selected this past weekend. Therefore, 11 is the jersey number Strong will wear this season, to remind himself that 10 other receivers were selected ahead of him. 

"Number 11 to remind me that 10 receivers were taken before me in the Draft," Strong wrote on his Instagram page. "So much hunger in my heart. Thanks Houston!"


Jaguars agree to terms with 9 UDFAs, including Nick Marshall
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(5/3/2015) The Jaguars announced they will sign nine rookie undrafted free agents, including former Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall.

Marshall will move to cornerback as a professional football player.

As Auburn's starting quarterback in 2014, he threw for 2,532 yards and 20 touchdowns. In 2013, Marshall led the Tigers to the BCS National Championship, where Auburn lost to Florida State. 

Marshall has some experience with the Jaguars. At the Senior Bowl, where he played as a corner, he was coached by the Jaguars' coaching staff. 

The Jaguars will also bring in Miami linebacker Thurston Armbrister , Syracuse defensive tackle Eric Crume , Auburn running back Corey Grant , Oregon State tight end Connor Hamlett , Minnesota-Mankato guard Chris Reed, Maryland linebacker Matt Robinson , Pittsburgh linebacker Todd Thomas and Kansas State quarterback Jake Waters


Lions unsure if Travis Swanson will start at center
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(5/3/2015) When the Lions drafted Travis Swanson a year ago, the idea was for him to emerge as a starting center for the franchise by 2015. 

There's now some doubt, at least that's what the Lions themselves are saying after acquiring veteran Manny Ramirez in a trade on Thursday during the NFL draft. 

"I don't know," Lions offensive line coach Jeremiah Washburn said, via the Detroit Free Press. "And I'm not trying to be evasive, I just don't know. What is it, May 2, 3rd? The depth kind of develops itself, which is a nice thing. Going through OTAs, mini-camp, training camp, it always takes care of itself."

Swanson is still the favorite to start at center, though it does appear the Lions want to put him in a competitive situation. 


Panthers not concerned with Devin Funchess' 40 time
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(5/3/2015) Panthers rookie receiver Devin Funchess didn't impress scouts too much when he ran a 4.7 40-yard dash time at the NFL scouting combine this past February. 

But that didn't stop the Panthers from selecting him the second round on Friday during the NFL draft. The Panthers were impressed enough in Funchess, based on his big-play ability and size at 6-5, 230 pounds, to add him to their roster. 

"People are going to talk about his 40 time in Indy, but the kid plays fast, and he ran fast at the pro day at Michigan (4.48 40-yard dash)," Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman said, via the team's official website. "Like with Kelvin (Benjmin) last year, you can't coach size. He plays fast. He's a smooth and fluid big man. We really like that about him, and he's a very smart kid."


Browns GM: Ifo Ekpre-Olomu can be a starting cornerback
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(5/3/2015) Former Oregon cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu was considered a first-round prospect before tearing an ACL this past December, which sidelined him for the first-ever College Football Playoff. 

Due to the uncertainty of his injury, Ekpre-Olomu experienced a substantial fall from potential first-rounded to the seventh round. The Browns ended up grabbing Ekpre-Olomu with the 241st overall pick.

Assuming Ekpre-Olomu can rehab his knee back into shape, Browns general manager Ray Farmer said Ekpre-Olomu has a great future in the NFL. 

"We felt this kid can be a starter if he’s 100 percent," Farmer said, via ESPN.com


Matt Jones' arrival won't change Redskins RB Alfred Morris' role
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(5/3/2015) It doesn't hurt to have more than one quality running back to tote the ball in the NFL. But when a solid runner is taken in the first few rounds of the draft, it can be an ominous sign for a back used to being the primary ball carrier. 

That's not the case with Redskins running back Alfred Morris. Though the Redskins drafted Florida's Matt Jones in the third round, coach Jay Gruden said there are no plans to change Morris' role in the offense. 

"Alfred won't be affected," Gruden said, via ESPN.com. "Alfred's still the running back here. He's had three great seasons and that won't change. But to add another guy that can come in here and pound the rock a little bit doesn't hurt anything. It'll help Alfred in that regard, taking some carries off him. For the most part Alfred will be getting the bulk of the carries and Matt will get some too, obviously."

In a tough season for everyone on the Redskins, Morris ran got 1,074 yards and eight touchdowns. Jones provides some insurance as a big-bodied 6-2, 226-pound back that could actually help Morris this season. 

"He's a little bit different than what we've had around here," Gruden said. 


Falcons waive tight end Kyle Miller
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(5/3/2015) The Falcons announced on Sunday that they have waived tight end Kyle Miller

Miller was with the Falcons' practice squad in 2014. He was originally signed as an undrafted free agent by the Jaguars in 2012. 


Packers QB Brett Hundley's fall in draft 'blessing in disguise'
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(5/3/2015) Former UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley admitted disappointment after falling to third day of the NFL draft. 

When Hundley declared for the draft he was considered a first- or second-round pick. But as the pre-draft process continued, Hundley's game was scrutinized to the point where he fell down lots of draft boards. 

All of a sudden, Hundley found himself still available in the fifth round. With the 147th overall pick, the Packers selected Hundley, even though starter Aaron Rodgers is poised to remain as one of the greats in this league for many years to come. 

For Hundley, he's looking at the opportunity as a way to prove his critics wrong. 

"It's a blessing in disguise," Hundley said via the Green Bay Post-Gazette, "and you know I have a chip on my shoulder, and I'm coming in to work, and that's what I've come down to. I'm just coming in, I've got my opportunity. That's the way I look at it. It's a blessing in disguise.

"You always have expectations of going No. 1 or high in the draft, but everything happens for a reason, and that's how I look at it. If I'm supposed to be here, this is where I'm supposed to be, and I'm going to make the most of it."


 
 
 
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