Saying No to Rashard Mendenhall

He may be getting another shot, but Rashard Mendenhall just might not be cut out for it.

Rashard Mendenhall is proven: Only Arian Foster and Jamaal Charles were better fantasy running back options in 2010. He’s healthy: A late-season ACL tear in the 2011 season forced Mendenhall to miss action and not look or feel the same in 2012. He’s young: The man is just a year-and-a-half older than Doug Martin.

Reunited with ex-Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, it appears - appears - Rashard Mendenhall can return to his once stellar fantasy football form. Unfortunately, that perception is anything but reality.

Feeling good about Rashard Mendenhall’s 2013 prospects would be like feeling good about’s potential over the next five years. Why would you invest if there are better options elsewhere?

The Cardinals' Putrid Rushing Attack

There couldn’t have been a worse situation for Rashard Mendenhall to move to. I suppose he could’ve just taken a backup role in a different location, but really, he might have actually preferred that.

Calling the Cardinals bad at running the football last year wouldn’t be enough. They were dreadful. Horrendous. They reminded me of Zack Morris singing his school song after being sabotaged by his friends. It was that bad.

Not surprisingly, the Cardinals finished last in terms of adjusted rushing net expected points per play last season. This metric looks at how effective a running game was towards a team output, and is “adjusted” by opponent, taking strength of schedule into consideration. Every time the Cardinals ran the ball last year, they were losing .16 points. Real points, too – not fantasy ones.

Arizona’s running game last season was the 7th worst we’ve seen since 2000. And moreover, it was the absolute worst rushing performance by a team since 2005. Oh, and that 2005 team? Arizona, of course.

Now, clearly this lack of rushing effectiveness comes down to many factors. The Cards couldn’t pass the ball to save their lives, and the offensive line was atrocious, allowing the second most sacks by any team since 2006. Considering this, it’s no surprise to see that Cardinals running backs were some of the worst in the league last year.

PlayerAttYdsTDsRush NEP/AttRank
LaRod Stephens-Howling1113574-.1969 of 72
Beanie Wells882345-.2371 of 72
William Powell592160-.0437 of 72
Ryan Williams581640-.3372 of 72

Three of the four 50-plus attempt runners from the Cardinals last season finished at the absolute bottom of the league in terms of rushing efficiency. The only player who was any good was William Powell, and he still finished in the bottom half efficiency-wise. None of the runners had positive net expected points per play, meaning they were eliminating points from the Cardinals score with each rushing attempt.

Again, much of this has to do with a considerable amount of variables, but those variables – offensive line play especially – may still exist for Rashard Mendenhall in 2013. That’s not good.

Rashard Mendenhall’s Overrated Game

It’s safe to say that Mendenhall will still serve as an upgrade to the existing Cardinals rushing attack. The numbers above can and should only go up, meaning the Cardinals should be better at running the football in 2013. When you consider Carson Palmer under center and a couple of new offensive line pieces, that assumption only becomes stronger.

But one thing to keep in mind as you see Rashard Mendenhall staring you down in the 5th and 6th rounds of your fantasy draft is that he may not be as good as many believe. Take a look at his efficiency scores since becoming a relevant back in 2009:

PlayerAttYdsTDsRush NEP/AttRank
20092421,1087-.0234 of 74
20103241,27313-.0544 of 68
20112289289-.0338 of 74
2012511820-.1361 of 72

Mendenhall has yet to finish with a positive net expected points per attempt total in the NFL. Again, this number takes a look at how a running back is contributing to his team's point total. Moreover, Shard has never ranked higher than 34th among 50-plus attempt runners, and has actually ranked in the bottom half efficiency-wise in three of four seasons. Though it's difficult to obtain a positive rushing NEP value, the comparison to other backs is alarming. Keep in mind, this net expected points data has a nice correlation to fantasy success, usage aside.

Essentially, Mendenhall has been a fantasy football commodity because of volume. He received over 220 carries over his three healthy seasons in Pittsburgh, making him the 13th-, 3rd- and 19th-best running back in pretend football over that time. The Steelers, however, had a nice balanced attack over that period, ranking 11th, 5th and 6th in terms of adjusted NEP per pass attempt. The fact that Mendenhall was so mediocre from an efficiency perspective – regardless of probable offensive line woes – speaks volumes to the kind of runner he actually is.

What to Expect in Arizona This Season

Even with Carson Palmer on board, the Cardinals shouldn’t be expected to be a top-10 passing attack like the Steelers have been over the past three or four seasons. Bruce Arians is a fine offensive coordinator, but he’s not working with elite talent outside of Larry Fitzgerald in Arizona. Mendenhall just isn’t going to see the same type of defenses he did when Ben Roethlisberger was his leader in the Steel City.

To make matters worse, he’s already been sidelined during camp, and the Cardinals have young, capable backs behind him on the depth chart. Mendenhall’s biggest competition in Pittsburgh was Willie Parker and Isaac Redman. Yeah, exactly.

The offensive line Mendenhall will be running behind won’t be any better than the one he had in Pittsburgh either. The quarterback play – the passing offense – will be less efficient as well. To top it off, Shard is now in a brutal division.

But most of all – the number one thing to keep in mind – Rashard Mendenhall isn’t as good as you think he is. Though he’s our 29th-ranked running back entering the 2013 season, much of that has to do with volume. We have him slotted to get a 3.8 yards per carry average, running about 202 times for about 765 yards. Seems reasonable for a mediocre runner behind a sub-par offensive line.

I have to wonder: Why are you taking a chance on Rashard Mendenhall in the 5th and 6th round? Go with other upside options, and let your league mates make the mistake of selecting him.