Photo of Rashard Mendenhall
Grade
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  • 4.45 SEC
    Top Performer
  • 26 REPS
    Top Performer
  • 33.5 INCH
    Top Performer
  • 4.18 SEC
    Top Performer
  • 5'11" Height
  • 210LBS. Weight

Overview

A physical inside runner, Mendenhall helped the Illini get back to the national prominence experienced in the 1980s. In his only season as a starter, Mendenhall led the team to a berth in the prestigious Rose Bowl. He went on to set school rushing records for most yardage (1,681) and touchdowns (17) in 2007, while also establishing an annual record with 1,999 all-purpose yards.

With a low center of gravity and thick legs, Mendenhall was a punishing force running between the tackles. He also showed the quick burst and second gear to elude defenders in the open field. Knowing what professional teams want in a tailback, he worked hard in the offseason to improve his pass-catching ability, almost tripling his reception production as a junior over that of his previous season (34 to 12).

At Niles West High School, Mendenhall was rated the premier recruit in the state of Illinois by Scout.com, earning a five-star prospect from that recruiting service, which rated him the 24th-best prep player in the country. He was named to Rivals.com's Top 100 team and rated 17th among national recruits by the Atlanta Journal Constitution. He was a member of the Student Sports Top 100 list of senior prospects, adding Prep Star All-American and Dream Team accolades.

Mendenhall was also selected the top recruit in the state of Illinois by the Chicago Sun-Times and named to Super Prep's Elite 50 list and All-American squad, ranking as the nation's fourth-best running back by the same publication. He also participated in the Fifth Annual U.S. Army All-American Bowl. The two-sport star was a three-year All-Central Suburban Conference selection for football and two-time pick for track. He was named to All-State teams as a junior in both football and track, in addition to earning All-Area honors for both sports as a sophomore and during his junior year for football.

Mendenhall averaged 9.1 yards per carry as a senior, rushing for 1,453 yards on 160 attempts and 14 touchdowns. As a junior, he gained 1,832 yards and 19 touchdowns, while averaging 11.6 yards per carry and recorded 1,300 yards and 21 scores as a sophomore. He also had over 1,000 career yards receiving and 13 touchdown catches. He was the Outstanding Performer at the Illinois Prep Top-Times meet as a junior and finished seventh in the state 100-meter dash as a sophomore. He also lettered in basketball.

Mendenhall verbally committed to Illinois as a junior in high school, spurning scholarship offers from Arizona, Arizona State and Northwestern, so he could join his brother, Walter, in the backfield for the Fighting Illini. Walter redshirted in 2004 and both brothers lettered in '05. Rashard was listed third on the depth chart at tailback, appearing in 10 games as a reserve. He managed 218 yards on 48 carries (4.5-yard average) and scored twice on 13 receptions for 82 yards (6.3-yard average).

As a sophomore, Mendenhall backed up Pierre Thomas, finishing second on the team with 640 yards and five touchdowns on 78 attempts (8.2-yard average). He also snared 12 passes for 164 yards (13.7 avg) and a score, racking up 870 all-purpose yards. His 8.2-yard rushing average was the best in the Big Ten Conference. He also earned CoSIDA/ESPN Academic All-District and Academic All-Big Ten honors in 2006.

In 2007, was named Big Ten Conference Offensive Player of the Year. He ranked second in the league and eighth in the country with 262 carries, setting school season-records with 1,681 yards (6.4 avg) and 17 touchdowns. He also set a school record with 1,999 all-purpose yards, ranking third in the Big Ten with an average of 153.77 yards per game. He also made 34 catches for 318 yards (9.4 avg) and two touchdowns, scoring 114 points for his final campaign.

Capitalizing on his standout season, Mendenhall opted to enter the 2008 NFL Draft.

In 35 games at Illinois, Mendenhall started 14 times. He rushed 388 times for 2,539 yards (6.5-yard average) and 22 touchdowns, ranking seventh all-time on the school's rushing yardage list. He grabbed 59 passes for 564 yards (9.6 avg) and five scores, finishing with 162 points. He recorded two solo tackles and ranks 11th in school history with 3,103 all-purpose yards.

Analysis

Strengths

Positives: Has an athletic build with good muscular definition, big biceps, firm midsection and hips, thick thighs and calves...More quick than fast...Has excellent agility and balance through the rush lane...Tough, competitive athlete who has played behind some very average offensive lines, having to create a lot on his own...Instinctive runner with a good feel for the cutback lanes, doing a good job of setting up his moves in attempts to elude...Studies the game and, unlike most running backs, he has a good blue-collar work ethic...Shows good courage challenging bigger defenders and runs with a pitter-patter style...Makes good decisions and precise cuts into the hole, as he moves on the snap with no hesitation...Has good instincts, setting up and using his blocks well and has the vision to avoid and create on the move...Slides through the smallest of creases and knows how to get "skinny" and get through the spaces...Has the vision that lets him see things most backs don't...Can create if the hole is closed, but is best when taking what he can get...Does not dance in the hole, showing good body lean moving forward...Shows a good stiff-arm running with power to bounce off would-be tacklers...Not a burner, but flashes decent "scoot" to get into the second level...Has good quickness with deceptive long speed...Not really elusive, but when he sticks his foot in the ground, he has efficient plant-and-drive agility...His ball security improved in 2007, but he still needs to refine ball distribution...Plays strong, but using him as just a short-yardage back would be wasting his ability to run over second-level defenders, as he has that power to get through the hole...Has a good feel for the passing game with crisp cuts, but is not the type to split wide...Natural hands catcher -- receiver-quality -- and it is rare to see him fight with the ball...Not asked to block much, but is a team-oriented type who has the hip snap and power to block in-line and takes good angles to cut block...When he keeps his pads down (generally does), he uses his balance and leg drive to break through initial tackles...Best when utilized on screens as a receiver rather than have him attack the deep zone. Negatives: Lacks breakaway speed, but generates good acceleration...Coaches have worked hard to get him to reduce the arm motion used when carrying the ball, as it resulted in costly fumbles in 2006...Has loose hips, but on attempts to redirect, he can be stiff in his lateral movements...Will occasionally take false steps, but he doesn't affect his timing at the point...Has a quick sidestep, but is not really the shiftiest runner you will find...Has a feel for the cutback lanes, but lacks that extra gear and speed to turn the corner consistently at the next level (needs to be a bit more patient waiting for his linemen to pull)...Not much wiggle in his running stride, showing just adequate lateral slide while running and even when at full speed, he is more of a one-cut type (linear runner). Compares To: CEDRIC BENSON-Chicago...Bears fans might not like reading this comparison, especially since Mendenhall has attained "favorite son" status in the Windy City. Both are well-built runner with thick frames that are best served running between the tackles, as neither has that blazing speed you want in an outside runner. Mendenhall capitalized from his only season as a starter into a future NFL contract, but while he has made marked improvement in 2007, there is work to be done. He knows how to pick and slide, but there are times he will just run right at a defender rather than elude. His ball distribution needs total refinement, as he has a knack for swinging the ball wildly when he runs. Like Benson, that leads to a high amount of costly fumbles. He is a good receiver out of the backfield and relatively durable, having never missed a game due to injuries. While he should be a first-round pick, with strong post-Combine workouts, he still has a big learning curve ahead of him.
C
Grade Title
9.00-10 Once-in-lifetime player
8.00-8.99 Perennial All-Pro
7.50-7.99 Future All-Pro
7.00-7.49 Pro Bowl-caliber player
6.50-6.99 Chance to become Pro Bowl-caliber player
6.00-6.49 Should become instant starter
5.50-5.99 Chance to become NFL starter
5.20-5.49 NFL backup or special teams potential
5.01-5.19 Better-than-average chance to make NFL roster
5.00 50-50 Chance to make NFL roster
4.75-4.99 Should be in an NFL training camp
4.50-4.74 Chance to be in an NFL training camp
No Grade Likely needs time in developmental league.
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