Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

19 Jul 2010

FO MAILBAG: Rashard Mendenhall

Warholabowie: Rashard Mendenhall: Currently the second-best ranked player, Green risk AND some playoff bonus?!?! I find it hard to imagine that it's just because of: 1) Big Ben's suspension 2) no Santonio Holmes 3) no Willie Parker. Did the Steelers improve their o-line? Did they get an easy-to-run against schedule? I'm very interested to see why KUBIAK thinks so highly of Mendenhall.

Original question here.

Aaron Schatz: So, this seems to be the most controversial projection in this year's KUBIAK. Not a shock, because Mendenhall is our "surprise entry" into 2010's fantasy top five. It is a little weird for people to be that surprised, because it isn't like the same five running backs repeat as the most valuable players in fantasy football year after year. Nonetheless, let's go through some reasons.

1) He has no job competition. The backup running back, Mewelde Moore, is basically just a third-down back. Third-stringer Jonathan Dwyer is a promising late-round draft pick, but still just a late-round draft pick. There aren't going to be a lot of running backs with less competition for carries -- and two of them are the player ranking ahead of Mendenhall in standard leagues (Chris Johnson) and one of the three players who rank ahead of Mendenhall in PPR leagues (Maurice Jones-Drew).

2) Pittsburgh will run much more than in 2009. If you've read the book, you already know that we're going against conventional wisdom by projecting a defense-driven playoff appearance for Pittsburgh despite the Roethlisberger suspension and other issues. More wins means more carries and more touchdowns. In addition, it's pretty darn likely that the Pittsburgh offense will feature a higher percentage of runs in the first six weeks with someone other than Roethlisberger under center.

3) Schedule does play a factor. Projecting run defense is a lot harder than projecting pass defense, but we know that the defenses of the AFC East and the NFC South are both generally better against the pass than against the run.

4) General trends are in Mendenhall's favor. We're talking about a first-round pick in his third season moving into the starting lineup. That's usually a recipe for success. Two-year similarity scores for Mendenhall highlight a good number of breakout running backs. The most similar two-year span belonged to Wendell Tyler in 1978-1979, which doesn't tell us anything because Tyler injured his hip in an offseason auto accident and only played four games at the end of 1980. However, the second most similar span belongs to Rudi Johnson in 2002-2003. Like Mendenhall, Johnson took carries away from a struggling veteran and then took over the starting job the next season -- with a dozen touchdowns and over 1,400 yards.

Other similar players and what happened to them the next season:

Posted by: Aaron Schatz on 19 Jul 2010

11 comments, Last at 02 Sep 2010, 2:21pm by abnospam

Comments

1
by R. Carney (not verified) :: Mon, 07/19/2010 - 7:27pm

So by KUBIAK logic I should keep Mendenhall over Andre Johnson in a one keeper league? Because conventional wisdom would say otherwise.

2
by dbostedo :: Mon, 07/19/2010 - 9:36pm

Sort of. There are always other things to consider :

-- Johnson is likely more of a sure thing, given previous history
-- Johnson is more highly regarded, and will get snapped up quickly if not kept. Is there a chance Mendenhall could be let go, but then drafted by you? You always need to consider
-- Depending on league, you have to factor in receiver/running back scoring and how the other drafters think of them

KUBIAK isn't the be all/end all, and doesn't really pretend to be. It's just the most likely prediction under a the system FO has devised. It's pretty accurate on average, but can be way off for particular players.

3
by Aaron Schatz :: Mon, 07/19/2010 - 9:43pm

Right. The biggest issue is not Mendenhall vs. Johnson as much as it is how many of the top running backs you expect to be kept, vs. top wide receivers. You may disagree with us on Mendenhall, but if you expect eight teams to protect running backs and only two to protect wide receivers, then you absolutely want to protect Mendenhall because there will be a lot more wide receiver talent available than there will be running back talent.

5
by roguerouge :: Mon, 07/19/2010 - 10:37pm

You keep one player? Keep Andre Johnson! Mendenhall will be there for you in the first round. Don't worry about it.

6
by Dan :: Tue, 07/20/2010 - 12:41am

If you can keep them again the following year, I think that gives another advantage to AJ, since he's a safer bet for 2011.

4
by battlered59 (not verified) :: Mon, 07/19/2010 - 10:19pm

How will the Willie Colon factor affect Mendenhall's production?

7
by Israel P. (not verified) :: Tue, 07/20/2010 - 8:53am

Maybe worse blocking, but fewer first and fifteen.

8
by Wide_Right :: Sat, 08/21/2010 - 5:35pm

As much as I'd like to trust the numbers again this year, it's awfully hard to after being burned by FO's projections for Kevin Jones, Julius Jones, Ronnie Brown, and Matt Forte the last few years. My heart can't take anymore pain from failed first-round picks.

9
by electricmayhem :: Mon, 08/30/2010 - 5:19pm

You forgot to mention the infamous Matt Hasselbeck pick as well. I actually have had a lot of fantasy success with KUBIAK. I find it most useful as a way to identify players to stay well away from and who can be valuable in later rounds/lower draft slots. We will see how it does this year, I was in an autodraft league so my team is stuffed full of KUBIAK darlings and also about 3/4 my team has a week 5 bye.

10
by resident jenius :: Wed, 09/01/2010 - 8:59pm

This is my fourth year drafting with KUBIAK. I generally only use its as validation for my own opinions in rounds 1 - 4. After that is where the real value is for me. KUBIAK has been amazing at picking under-valued late round/emerging players. I'm initially very happy with my team again this year. Fingers crossed.

11
by abnospam :: Thu, 09/02/2010 - 2:21pm

First time KUBIAK customer here. I know this is subjective, but I went to IL and watch Mendenhall a lot. Mendenhall can sometimes check out, not work hard, etc. Additionally, he seems to run pretty upright and turns his back to defenders a lot making me think he is an injury waiting to happen. Were these things taken into consideration with this projection?