Rashard Mendenhall better get ready to run because he's going to see plenty of carries to start the 2010 season.
Ben Roethlisberger was suspended for six games Wednesday for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy. The suspension can be reduced to four games based on Roethlisberger's behavior and compliance with clinical evaluators, and that's what should be expected.
Without Roethlisberger, the Steelers will definitely revert back to being a running team. They were likely headed in that direction anyway after missing the playoffs last year, and now the offense will lean on Mendenhall. Remember, Santonio Holmes was also traded to the New York Jets.
This leaves Mendenhall as the best Fantasy option in Pittsburgh, and he should be considered a Top 10 running back coming into the season. He is worth drafting in the first round.
Last year, Mendenhall replaced the injured Willie Parker and finished with 1,108 rushing yards and seven touchdowns and caught 25 passes for 261 yards and a touchdown. He only had 242 carries, and you can expect close to 300 this season. With the additional touches, Mendenhall is looking at more than 1,500 total yards and probably 10 touchdowns.
The biggest problem for Mendenhall will be facing extra defenders near the line of scrimmage. Not many teams are going to fear the Steelers' passing game without Roethlisberger.
The Steelers are expected to have an open competition at quarterback with Dennis Dixon and Byron Leftwich, who was acquired via trade Tuesday from Tampa Bay for a seventh-round pick. Early reports are Dixon will open training camp as the starter, but he will have a short leash to keep the job. Charlie Batch is also on the roster and could compete to be the starter, but none of these quarterbacks have any Fantasy value.
Roethlisberger is still worth drafting, but he's now definitely a No. 2 Fantasy option. He can still be useful when the suspension is lifted, but his value is limited with the loss of games, whether it's four or six.
The Steelers receivers also take a hit in value, but not by much. Hines Ward, who improved with Holmes being traded to the Jets, should be considered a low-end No. 2 Fantasy wide receiver. Mike Wallace also drops from a high-end No. 3 Fantasy option to more of a reserve with a late-round pick.
Heath Miller should be considered a No. 2 Fantasy tight end also. These guys will still post quality stats, but you won't be able to trust them until Roethlisberger returns.
The one player you can count on is Mendenhall, and he will be asked to carry the offense. Pittsburgh's schedule to start the season isn't easy: Week 1 vs. Atlanta, Week 2 at Tennessee, Week 3 at Tampa Bay and Week 4 vs. Baltimore before a bye in Week 5.
Mendenhall was the starter for two games against the Ravens last year, and Baltimore was No. 5 in run defense. He had 24 carries for 95 yards and two catches for 22 yards in the first meeting at Baltimore in Week 12 and 17 carries for 36 yards and a touchdown and one catch for 4 yards in the second meeting at home in Week 16. In the first game, where Mendenhall was better, Roethlisberger (concussion) didn't play.
As for the other three opponents, Atlanta and Tennessee ranked in the Top 12 of run defense last year, while Tampa Bay was last in the NFL. Based on the number of carries Mendenhall is going to get, he'll be in your Fantasy lineup each week.
This is a big year for Mendenhall. Even though the Steelers take a hit with Roethlisberger being suspended, his value should improve. He better get ready to run.
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