Fantasy Football Rankings: Should You Draft Rashard Mendenhall Before Chris Johnson?

LATROBE, PA - JULY 29: Rashard Mendenhall #34 of the Pittsburgh Steelers puts his helmet on during training camp on July 29, 2011 at St Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

With Chris Johnson's holdout dragging on, should you take Rashard Mendenhall ahead of him in fantasy drafts?

Let's say you're sitting at No. 5 in your fantasy football draft this year. The owners ahead of you -- wisely, in my opinion -- select Adrian Peterson, Arian Foster, Jamaal Charles and Ray Rice. Now that you're on the clock, whose name are you calling?

Perhaps you're one of those folks who overvalues quarterbacks and you can't say "Aaron Rodgers!" or "Michael Vick!" quickly enough. I wrote last week about why you should wait for a fantasy quarterback in your drafts, but hey - it's your funeral. 

To me, the argument comes down to Chris Johnson of the Titans and the Steelers' very own Rashard Mendenhall. I suppose you could make an argument for LeSean McCoy, too, especially if you're playing in a points-per-reception (PPR) league. But with Ronnie Brown lurking in Philadelphia, the decision mostly comes down to the workhorses in Pittsburgh and Tennessee. After all, NFL halfbacks who touch the ball 350 times or more per season are an endangered species and an invaluable fantasy commodity.

(Sidenote: I know they're all the rage - just like Pogs! - but PPR leagues are seriously inane, if you ask me. Fantasy writers and novices say that PPR increases the value of receivers and pass-catching runners, which is true. But why should their value be increased? By that same rationale, shouldn't we award some amount of points per carry, or per pass completion? A league where a completed screen pass for negative yardage gets you positive fantasy points is not one I want to play in.)

Chris Johnson's holdout is a concern, that's what's causing his value to slip in some publications. For instance, Yahoo! currently has Mendenhall ranked at No. 5, just ahead of Texans wideout Andre Johnson and "CJ2K," as the Titans rusher is known.

If your draft was today, and you knew that Chris Johnson would miss, say, two regular season games, would you take Mendenhall over him? I think that I would have to, although we don't know for sure what the end result of Johnson's holdout will be. Keep in mind that this is a guy for whom last season's 1,600 total yards and 12 total touchdowns were widely considered a disappointment. That's absurd.

That said, Mendenhall is one of the safest players in the first round after the "big four" listed above. He's a talented back who benefits from an excellent, field-stretching passing attack and an efficient offense. Further, he's going to get the lion's share of Pittsburgh's carries - backups Isaac Redman and Mewelde Moore will see a few snaps each week - including those around the goal line. Finally, Mendenhall is barely 24 years old and hasn't hit his fantasy ceiling.  

The clock is ticking at pick No. 5. Do you go with Johnson, the holdout with a 2,000-yard rushing campaign on his resume, or do you play it safe with Mendenhall? These are the kind of difficult decisions that make fantasy football so much fun. Let us know in the poll, and good luck on draft day.

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