Instead of parachute runs and bench presses, the second-year product from Illinois traded in his cleats for a pair of rug-cutting shoes, signing up for a hip hop dance class. Franco Harris surely didn't approve.
Mendenhall, who's always possessed a curiosity for the arts, wanted an entertaining way to become more elusive, enhance flexibility, improve lateral quickness and prepare his body for the tolling 17-week regular season grind. According to his teacher Sandy Romah, the rusher was a hard-working student who was passionate about dance. She also added he was "very good, a natural." Move over Warren Sapp(notes).
Based on his Michael Jackson-themed recital earlier this summer at Chartiers Valley Intermediate Center outside Pittsburgh, Romah's observations were spot on. Attempt to tackle the smooth-grooving rusher, and you might just get served.
Normally, in the eyes of the fantasy community, "dancing" is a word you don't want associated with your running back. Because happy-footed rushers are overly apprehensive and timid, they are usually frustrating commodities to own (i.e. Reggie Bush(notes)). But Mendenhall could be the exception to the rule.
Last year's first-rounder enters this season at a crossroads of sorts. Before Ray Lewis(notes) shattered his shoulder in Week 4, abruptly ending his rookie campaign, he made a marginal first impression. Fumble prone and generally lackluster, the youngster showed only brief flashes of his incredible potential. Despite the unfortunate initial effort, head coach Mike Tomlin has faith Mendenhall will be unleashed the second time around:
"This is his second lap around the track. I expect him to take the jump that most second-year players take. He has conducted himself ... like a guy who is ready to burst onto the scene, like a guy who's ready to put his head into the pile and help us win."
So far this preseason, the Steelers' dancing machine hasn't captivated the Steely McBeam Nation. Fans and beat writers house indifferent feelings about his early season performance (14 carries, 50 yards). It seems "bust" whispers are becoming more widespread. It's way too early to throw around such a label, but his final two exhibition efforts will be critical in defining his exact role within the expected platoon.
In Mendenhall's defense, Pittsburgh's offensive line issues are still visible. In his first preseason contest against Arizona, few holes materialized. Until the trench team congeals, any back wearing black and gold will likely struggle. Remember last year, Steelers rushers averaged an uncharacteristic 3.7 yards per carry.
Although Pittsburgh hoisted the Lombardi Trophy with arguably one of the worst rushing attacks in Super Bowl history, Tomlin and company are committed to a blue collar approach. With current depth-chart topper Willie Parker(notes) nearing the final act of his career and Bruce Arians' desire of installing a throwback pony backfield, Mendenhall end-zone moonwalks could be common this fall.
Based on his 106.38 Mock Draft Central ADP, he's one of the finest mid-round bargains in fantasy. Despite his uninspiring exhibition efforts thus far and the blocking concerns up front, Mendenhall is primed to breakout. At this point next year, expect him to be at least a Round 3 staple.
Fearless Forecast (Mendenhall, 15 G): 195 rushes, 858 rushing yards, 18 receptions, 110 receiving yards, 8 total touchdowns
Fearless Forecast (Parker, 13 G): 218 rushes, 916 rushing yards, 20 receptions, 132 receiving yards, 5 total touchdowns
Who do you take in a "Dancing with the Stars" showdown between Mendenhall, Sapp and Jerry Rice(notes)? Which Steelers back will be more valuable? What's your Fearless Forecast for the Pittsburgh backfield? Discuss below.
Image courtesy of the AP