RB Rashard Mendenhall (5-11, 224) – Illinois
Strengths: He's a tremendously gifted all-purpose back who has great skills and quickness out of the backfield. He's an elusive runner who has great vision and awareness. He sets up opponents nicely, jukes, and makes them miss. He has quick feet and is able to stop and start without losing any momentum. He has a great combination of finesse and strength that allows him to run inside and outside while picking up tough yards. He flashes sure hands out of the backfield and allows his blockers to set up in front of him. He picks up blitzes and is a quality blocker in pass protection.
Weaknesses: He doesn't have elite speed. He tends to fade against top defenses. He failed to reach 100 yards rushing in five of the Illini's 12 regular season games, and those five games were against some of the better competition he faced: Missouri (33 yards), Penn State (76), Iowa (67), Michigan (87), and Ohio State (88).
Steuber Says: "Mendenhall is an interesting prospect who had an outstanding first season as a primary runner. The biggest question I have about him is this: Is he a one-year wonder? He's not a proven commodity, although his upside is off the charts. He's already a sure first-round pick, but if he can run a mid-4.4 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine and show the kind of speed that teams want out of a featured back, he'll be a top-15 selection."
JC's Take: During his season-ending press conference at Halas Hall last week, GM Jerry Angelo didn't sound ovely impressed with what Cedric Benson did in his first year as the featured back.
The former fourth-overall selection was handed the starting job on a silver platter once Thomas Jones was traded away to the Jets, but Angelo promises that there will be more competition for carries in the backfield next season. Adrian Peterson is adequate at best and Garrett Wolfe is more suited to be a third-down specialist and change-of-pace option, so neither of them can truly push Benson for No. 1 on the depth chart. However, bringing in a talent like Mendenhall this April would send a serious message to the imcumbent and might provide the kind of one-two punch that was so successful down the stretch in 2006 with Jones and Benson.
It's difficult to justify taking a running back that high in the draft twice in the span of four years, but this offense simply is not dynamic enough in the ground game and needs a shot in the arm.
John Crist is the Editor in Chief of BearReport.com and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.