The above image was the last time owners saw Rashard Mendenhall in uniform. It was chilly New Year's Day game against divisional foe Cleveland. The starting back, received a hand-off from Ben Roethlisberger, burst up-field for five yards and collapsed to the ground. Helped off by the Steelers training staff his prospects of returning for another postseason run immediately dimmed. The next day, tests revealed the worst, a torn ACL.
Now eight-plus months removed from that unfortunate incident, Mendenhall is shockingly back in the saddle. In a stunning revelation, the team announced Friday it has activated the former Pro Bowler off the physically unable to perform (PUP) list. He is expected back at practice next week.
Several questions remain unanswered, but expectations for the rusher's 2012 season prior to the announcement offered little excitement. Though his recovery had gone smoothly, most believed he was slated to miss at least the first six weeks of the regular season. Spring reports even suggested he was a possible season-long casualty. What was disclosed Friday really was the furthest outcome imaginable.
Obviously, Mendenhall's rapid recovery is a major blow to Isaac Redman. The backup-turned-starter was in line to shoulder a significant share of the workload, despite suffering a minor groin injury earlier this week. Between the tackles plodder Jonathan Dwyer and scat-back Chris Rainey were also slated for measurable roles.
Now the entire blueprint needs to be redrafted.
Unquestionably, Redman, projected to be a borderline RB2 in 12-team leagues (55.0 ADP, RB24), will, deservedly, slide down cheat sheets. Yes, it's unknown exactly where Mendenhall currently stands physically (Can he cut? Confidently absorb contact?), but thoughts of 15-20 touches per game for Redman are a pipe dream. At this point, he's a Roy Helu, LeGarrette Blount, Ryan Williams level rusher, an unknown commodity entrenched in an indecipherable situation. Consider him only in the late-middle rounds.
As for Mendenhall, to ensure his long-term health, it would be no surprise if Mike Tomlin and company ease him back in, a similar approach to what Leslie Frazier has implemented with Adrian Peterson. It's entirely possible a RBBC of some unknown pecking order will be instituted, at least initially, a maddening turn of events for a backfield that seemed relatively predictable. Until gamers witness the Mendenhall of old, he's a risk-filled product that should only be weighed after Round 9 in 12-team drafts. Recall last year he was already in decline. His 10.8 per game average over 15 starts checked in at No. 21 among RBs. That slide combined with the uneasiness surrounding Pittsburgh's revamped offensive line and holdout Mike Wallace, makes him a dicey, bench-only back. Still, sipping margaritas in 57-percent of Y! free agent pools, he must be fished for pronto.
A bomb went off in Pittsburgh Friday. And Bane had nothing to do with it.
(UPDATE: Adam Schefter reports Mendenhall likely won't be ready for Week 1 and could miss most of Pittsburgh's September games. Still think Redman is worthy of a significant demotion, even if he garners 3-4 starts. View him as the Toby Gerhart of the AFC.)
Can't get enough Andy Behrens, Brandon Funston, Scott Pianowski, Dalton Del Don and "The Noise?" Listen to The Fantasy Freak Show (Now on iTunes) every Friday at 5 p.m. PT/8 p.m. ET on Yahoo! Sports Radio