Mendenhall should let his value appreciate

By Daniel Johnson

In the Nov. 5 edition of the Daily Illini, the column titled “Mendenhall should let his value appreciate” said Darren McFadden plays for Alabama. He plays for Arkansas. The Daily Illni regrets the error.

In light of his body of work this year, and especially Saturday’s performance, I think that Rashard Mendenhall’s play is starting to turn the heads of NFL scouting departments.

Stop it, NFL. I want him to stay for next year.

Mendenhall is kind of good, if you haven’t noticed. As of Sunday – the day he shouldn’t be playing on this time next year – he is fourth in the nation in yards on the ground, tied for sixth in touchdowns and sixth in yards per carry as well.

It is admittedly selfish of me to expect him to come back next year, but there is definitely good reason for him to.

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    I think that the first reason for Mendenhall is draft position. If Mendenhall comes out this year, I think that he would likely be drafted in the second to third round.

    It’s not really his fault; I blame the system of the college football media for not paying attention to a player from the Big Ten if said player’s jersey doesn’t have Michigan or Ohio State on it. If he played for one of those teams or an SEC team, there’s little doubt that he would be heavily featured in the Heisman talk right now. Instead, running backs like Steve Slaton, Mike Hart and Darren McFadden are the ones that get all the love.

    Granted, West Virginia and Michigan have better records than Illinois, and Arkansas’ is similar at 6-3.

    West Virginia has beaten the likes of Rutgers on its tough schedule and Michigan has beaten … no one really. But at least the Wolverines don’t have any horribly embarrassing losses on the year that would have knocked any other team out of BCS consideration.

    Ranting aside, Mendenhall simply isn’t getting the exposure of the other players. While I don’t doubt that NFL evaluators would see his ability on film and hear about it from players and coaches, the players who ESPN fall in love with (see: Tebow, Tim) are the only ones that are relevant in Heisman consideration.

    The best thing that Mendenhall can do for his Heisman status is to come back next year and lead Illinois to a BCS bowl. It won’t be easy for Illinois next year, having to play Wisconsin, Penn State and Michigan on the road. But if Mendenhall comes back next year with the same dominating style against some of the lesser opponents and plays a key role in all three of those games, it would be extremely hard to ignore him.

    As much as he has improved from last year to this year, there would likely be another huge improvement if Mendenhall stays for his senior year. Zook’s coaching staff has more than proven its competence this year.

    Offensive coordinator Mike Locksley and running backs coach Reggie Mitchell have done a great job with Mendenhall and another year would make him that much better.

    Mendenhall’s blockers will undoubtedly suffer a hit with the loss of Akim Millington, Martin O’Donnell and Russ Weil.

    But the way that the line has performed under first-year offensive line coach Eric Wolford speaks to his ability to coach and hopefully replace players where needed.

    Juice Williams will progress more and be a better quarterback next year, too, opening up the offense more which in turn is going to make defenses worry about Mendenhall less and the passing game more.

    So, Rashard, I don’t think I’m the first to ask you, but how about you stay in Champaign for one more year? I’m thinking you came to Illinois to win, and you’ll get that chance. You’ll be able to run all over Louisiana-Lafayette and Eastern Illinois.

    You can stick it to Michigan, Penn State and Wisconsin in their stadiums and put Illinois football back on the map. You can hang out with Walter more, too. You’ll only have an opportunity like that once. It just makes sense.

    The League will still be there in 2009, waiting for you and your Heisman Trophy.

    Daniel Johnson is a junior in Communications. He can be reached at [email protected].