This is the 35th in a series of opinionated fantasy football columns that will be posted daily in July and August, providing fantasy owners with some insights to consider as they prepare for their drafts. You can get an in-depth preview of the upcoming fantasy football season with the purchase of the Yahoo! Sports / Pro Football Weekly Fantasy Football Guide 2010, available now in newsstands and bookstores, or online at PFWstore.com.
The dilemma facing fantasy owners drafting toward the bottom of Round One is whether to take a running back, then a wide receiver or quarterback in Round Two, or vice versa. (Or, in a bit of daring, taking two running backs or two wide receivers.)
No matter your approach, drafting toward the bottom of Round One can leave owners with indigestion. Many of the blue-chip players are gone, leaving owners to sort through the best of the rest. Moreover, owners know that the wait from the pick in Round Two to the next selection in Round Three is long and trying as targeted player after targeted player lands on other clubs.
Finding the right No. 1 running back probably causes the most headaches among these owners, for the title-winning teams with patchwork backfields are few. However, drafting near the end of Round One and near the beginning of Round Two has its benefits, and it can pay off handsomely — if you get the right back.
One runner who intrigues me is Pittsburgh's Rashard Mendenhall, who figures to be on the board toward the end of Round One and perhaps into the early stages of Round Two. Only 23, Mendenhall racked up 1,108 rushing yards and six TDs despite not winning the starting job until October. At 5-10 and 225 pounds, Mendenhall has good size for the position, but he also has above-average speed. Moreoever, he is still learning his craft, and starting 12 games a season ago could pay major dividends for him this season.
Mendenhall could be the focal point of the Steelers' offense early in the season as QB Ben Roethlisberger serves a minimum four-game suspension. While the Steelers face one very good run defense (Baltimore) and two good run defenses (Atlanta and Tennessee) in the first four games of the season, they also draw the Buccaneers' run defense, which was 32nd a season ago. Also, note that Mendenhall rushed for 95 yards in one of his two starts vs. Baltimore in 2009.
Mendenhall isn't known as an exceptional inside runner, and there's a chance rookie Jonathan Dwyer could get some goal-line carries this season. However, Mendenhall has the size and strength to be effective in short-yardage situations.
There's another factor working in Mendenhall's favor: he's clearly the Steelers' top back. Pittsburgh's top backup, Mewelde Moore, had just 35 carries last season and wasn't as effective as he was in 2008. Dwyer, while promising, is inexperienced, as is Isaac Redman.
Barring injury, Mendenhall should get 300 carries this season, and he's a threat to score 8-10 TDs. If you draft him and an elite quarterback or wide receiver in the first two rounds, your team will have a solid foundation.
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