This is not what you like to write about a player you helped project as a top-10 fantasy pick in Athlon Sports’ 2011 fantasy football magazine, but Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall can’t even be considered a Flex1 against the San Francisco 49ers Monday night.
I’d love to say the factors are the beat up offensive line, or that Charlie Batch may have to start in place of Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback or it’s just because the San Francisco rush defense is just too good to waste your time. All those are certainly factor, but in regards to how a true first-round back should perform, Mendenhall hasn’t really been worth an RB1 or RB2 slot all season — and he’s one of the few workhorse backs left.
Mendenhall has had just one game over 100 yards — a 23-for-146 effort against Jacksonville in Week 6 — and all the other games have been 76 yards or less, including eight at 60 or less. He has banged out the occasional two-TD game — Weeks 10 and 13 to help offset rushing days of 60 and 44 yards in those two contests — but otherwise has gone six games without a score. And as a pass-catcher, forget it. He had at least had 23 or more catches the last two years; this year he has just 13.
So that’s just the 13 games leading up to the matchup against the 49ers. The resurgent team from San Francisco is tops in the league in rushing defense and have basically made starting a player against it a waste of a roster spot.
The 49ers allow just 70.5 yards per game and have not surrendered a touchdown. No back has eclipsed 64 yards rushing this season; so at least Mendenhall will feel comfortable that he’s right at home with these numbers.
Like Frank Gore on the 49ers’ side, who also is just barely a flex going against the Steelers’ sixth-ranked rushing defense (97.0 YPG) that has allowed just six TDs this season and only two to running backs since Week 5, Mendenhall would probably need a turnover deep in San Francisco territory or a trip inside the 5 to have a legitimate chance at scoring a TD.
One thing going for Mendenhall is that he has five scores in the last five games — none coming beyond 10 yards. So he is clearly the go-to guy around the goal line. The Steelers can get down there with their passing offense going against the 49ers’ 19th-ranked passing defense that allows 234.5 yards per game.
But at what cost do you play a RB like Mendenhall who will go up against a team that gives up the pass but still has not allowed a single rushing TD this season?
Injuries might have killed you this season and you are forced to start Mendenhall, and I am sorry for that. But if you also have players like Willis McGahee, Cedric Benson, Pierre Thomas, Brandon Jacobs, Ben Tate, Marion Barber, Donald Brown, I would pop them in before the Pittsburgh back if for nothing but the upside.
By Corby A. Yarbrough @Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter