Entering the NFL:
Scouting Combine 40-time:
Many wondered if Rashard Mendenhall was the real deal after he had one standout season at Illinois
; a season that put him on the map as one of the premier running backs in the nation.
Even though he rushed for 1,681 yards on 262 carries and 17 touchdowns during his junior season - his first year as a starter - there was still doubt about how elusive Mendenhall was and if he was just a one-year wonder.
It was in the Rose Bowl where Mendenhall proved he was ready for the big stage. Despite being on the losing end of a lopsided 49 - 17 affair against USC
, Mendenhall was the one player who stood out from everyone else on the Illinois sideline.
Mendenhall had 17 carries for 155 yards and a touchdown, as well as five receptions for 59 yards.
Speaking of Mendenhall's receiving ability, that's the dimension he brings to the table that Shonn Greene severely lacks. In addition to his tremendous production on the ground, Mendenhall was one of the best out of the backfield in the receiving game. He finished the 2008 season with 34 receptions for 318 yards and two touchdowns.
As good as Mendenhall was as a junior, he faded against some of the top defenses in the country. He failed to reach 100 yards rushing in just five of the Illini's 12 regular season games, and those five games were against Missouri
(33 yards), Penn State
(76 yards), Iowa (67 yards), Michigan
(87 yards), and Ohio State
Although he had one outstanding season under his belt and a strong showing at the Scouting Combine, where he featured a 4.41 in the 40 and benched 225 pounds 26 times, Mendenhall was selected in the first round (23rd overall) by the Pittsburgh Steelers