It's easy to go over the top with optimism or pessimism about any draft, but it's rarely as good or as bad as we think it could be. I’m going to try to give a tempered analysis of the players we drafted, hopefully helping us understand why we made some picks and keeping our expectations at a rational level.
Round one: Rashard Mendenhall 5’10, 225. 4.45 40, 26 BP
Strengths: Mendenhall is a violent runner with a great stiff arm who can break tackles and run over safeties. He has good vision and is tough and decisive between the tackles. He is a hard worker, a competitor, and a team player. He is a natural receiver out of the backfield and has good speed for his size. He was very productive in college despite not having a lot of talent around him (1999yds, 19tds, 6.4 ypc), and has never missed a game due to injury (296 touches last year).
Weaknesses: The first thing I noticed from watching highlight videos of him is that he holds the ball rather loosely (looks like VY). I can’t find any college fumble stats on him, but if he doesn’t learn to protect the ball and switch hands, he will have a problem with ball security in the NFL, especially when he fights for yards with linebackers. He’s only a 1 year starter and played in a spread offense out of the shotgun a lot, which makes it harder to be certain about him, although it may lengthen his career. He doesn’t have FWP breakaway speed, and sometimes tries to run over tacklers instead of eluding them.
Analysis: Jonathan Stewart is more pro-ready than Mendenhall, but Mendenhall is a very solid back and his vision sets him apart from later round RB's. Ball security is my biggest pet peeve with young skill players (see also Holmes, Santonio), but Mendenhall seems to have a competitive desire and may be able to correct this problem in time. A lack of work ethic and injuries are usually the harbingers of a bust, so he looks like a relatively low-risk pick. He certainly has a lot of upside and complements FWP's skills well.
Parker proved all his critics wrong, but he finally proved to himself last year that he can’t run 400 times in a season, and he even asked for some help in the backfield. With Mendenhall in the mix, we should have 2 relatively healthy RB’s toward the end of the season, instead of one yard runs by Najeh all day. Also, if Arians ever decides to call some short pass plays, he has a couple of good options out of the backfield.
Passed on: DE’s Kentwaan Balmer, Phillip Merling, CB Mike Jenkins
All value at OT was gone with 7 OT’s taken before our pick. Merling wouldn’t have been a great fit in the 3-4, although that didn’t stop the Dolphins from drafting him. The knock on Jenkins is that he can’t catch the ball, and we already have a couple CB’s that can’t catch, so I can see why we would pass. Balmer would have been a decent pick that filled a need, but Mendenhall is simply a much better player.
This pick was a great value and filled a very real need, albeit not our biggest one. I'd rather have had Chris Williams fall to us, but we don't get to pick which great deals we're offered.