The Arizona Cardinals had the NFL’s worst rush offense in 2012 (75.3 yards per game), but they made moves to address the issue during the offseason by using their first-round pick on a guard (Jonathan Cooper) and signing Rashard Mendenhall to be their No. 1 running back.
Mendenhall had his best seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers when new Cardinals’ head coach Bruce Arians was offensive coordinator there, rushing for at least 1,100 yards in both 2009 and 2010, but his 2012 campaign was a dismal one (182 rushing yards in six games) as he worked his way back to full strength after suffering a torn ACL late in 2011.
Mendenhall has been anointed by Arians as Arizona’s featured back since early in the offseason, but he was bothered by tendinitis in his surgically repaired right knee early in training camp, and though he returned to practice without issue it has to be a bit of a concern. Behind Mendenhall on the depth chart is Ryan Williams, who has missed close to three weeks with a right knee issue and may have a hard time earning a roster spot after injuries wrecked the first two seasons of his career.
Could someone else in the Cardinals’ running back mix emerge as a viable option for fantasy football owners?
Stepfan Taylor was drafted by Arizona in the fifth round (140th overall) of April’s draft after a stellar career at Stanford, including a senior season where he finished 10th in the country in rushing (1,530 yards) and fourth in carries (322). For his career he set school records with 4,300 rushing yards and 45 total touchdowns (40 rushing), and also showed some ability as a receiver with 94 receptions over his final three seasons. Perhaps most importantly, Taylor never missed a game during his college career.
Mendenhall is still the only Cardinals’ running back that is draftable in the majority of fantasy leagues, but if he struggles to stay healthy or simply doesn’t produce at a high level Taylor has a potential path to significant playing time. That would make him a popular waiver wire addition in single-season leagues, and there are plenty of worse ways to use a late draft pick or final auction dollar in deep dynasty league drafts this year.
Brad Berreman is a contributing writer at Rant Sports.com. Follow him on Twitter @bradberreman24.