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Fantasy Sports

2013 Fantasy Football Sleeper: Rashard Mendenhall, Arizona Cardinals

Rashard Mendenhall

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Former Pittsburg Steeler running back Rashard Mendenhall was a disappointment to Fantasy Football managers in 2012. Coming off a torn ACL that he suffered in the Steelers final game of the 2011 season versus the Cleveland Browns, Mendenhall targeted the Steelers’ opening game versus the Denver Broncos as a return date.

That goal never saw fruition; in fact, Mendenhall wouldn’t start for the Steelers until week five against the Philadelphia Eagles. Mendenhall would carry the ball 13 times for 68 yards and no touchdowns in his first outing. That would be his best effort of the season as he battled an Achilles strain the remainder of the year.

In the offseason, Mendenhall would leave the “Steel City” in favor of the sun, desert and familiar relation with Bruce Arians head coach of the Arizona Cardinals.

Not sure if you have noticed but there seems to be something special brewing under the radar in Maricopa County, Arizona. Sure the Cardinals are a team that dropped 11 of their last 12 games in 2012, but this year’s club is not that team. Arizona has a new head coach, an offensive line that on paper looks far better than last season’s, a new quarterback and a new attitude.

After team mini-camps, Arians has already gone on record saying Mendenhall is the guy in the Cardinals backfield going in to training camp. Arians’ reasoning (PPR folks take note) – Mendenhall is a solid runner, great pass protector and he can catch the ball out of the backfield.

If I am reading the Arians message correctly, and I believe I am, that is more than just a pat on the back of Mendenhall. He’s in line to tote the lion’s share of Cardinals carries in 2013.

So what does that mean in Fantasy Football lingo? If Mendenhall can stay healthy, he is a tremendous sleeper pick in your fantasy drafts. Here is why.

As a three-year starter for the Steelers, Mendenhall rushed for just over 3,300 yards and scored 29 touchdowns. He also caught 66 balls for 582 yards and another score. Plus, he still has tread on the tires. At just 26 years of age, Mendenhall has really only played three full seasons of football.

He certainly proved his ability when healthy to handle the load in Pittsburg carrying the ball right at 800 times in three seasons including one season of 324 carries. During his short-lived hay day in Pittsburg he was considered by some a top five Fantasy Football running back.

Sure, Mendenhall is a gamble this year because of questions surrounding his health. However, when you see that he ranks outside the top 25 in most preseason player rankings, the gamble doesn’t seem all that risky – especially when you consider his potential upside.

Jim Heath is a Fantasy Football writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @jim_heath, “Like” him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google