Greene, Mendenhall Mirror Images
Shonn Greene (Mark Cunningham/Getty)
Shonn Greene (Mark Cunningham/Getty) NFL Draft Analyst
Posted Nov 19, 2008
Chris Steuber's NFL Draft Analyst Chris Steuber profiles Iowa running back Shonn Greene and former Illinois, now Steelers, running back Rashard Mendenhall. Steuber breaks down their junior years and how the two compare.

After waiting for his opportunity to play, Greene has risen to the occasion.
AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall

Entering the NFL:

Height: 5-10
Weight: 235
Projected 40-time: 4.50

Whether it's between the tackles or on the edge, Iowa junior running back Shonn Greene is one of the most feared running backs in the country. He has such great vision and balance to go along with his strength and quickness, defensive coordinators gasp every time he carries the ball.

The evidence of these qualities was on display in late October when Iowa hosted Wisconsin. Greene torched the Badgers defense for 217 yards on 27 carries and four touchdowns.

There was one play in the game that stood out over the rest. Iowa had possession on Wisconsin's 35-yard line when Greene took a handoff to the right side. He spotted a crease, made a quick cut to the left and accelerated into the open field. At the 20-yard line, a defender was awaiting; Greene juked to the left, then to the right, but a defender was able to get a hand on him and impede his progression just enough for another defender to have a shot at him at the 15-yard line. But, Greene was able to slip out of that tackle along the sideline, cut back to the left to avoid another defender at the 7-yard line and race between two more defenders to get into the endzone.

Greene has reached paydirt 15 times this season and has rushed for 1,585 yards on 256 carries (6.2 YPC). In 11 games this season, Greene has rushed for over 100 yards in each of the contests.

The one element of Greene's game that doesn't mirror Rashard Mendenhall is his receiving ability. It's a rare occurrence when Greene is asked to be a part of the Hawkeye passing attack; he offers much more in the run game.

If Greene decided to enter the '09 draft, it's likely that he would be a late first, early second round pick.



Mendenhall went through the same situation and turned it into millions.
AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian

Entering the NFL:
Height: 5-10
Weight: 225
Scouting Combine 40-time: 4.41

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 (88 yards).

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.


As a runner, Greene is one of the best in the country. But he has to improve his ability in the passing game.
Mark Cunningham/Getty

Greene and Mendenhall share similar physical attributes, had their opportunities to show they're premier players at a playmaking position during their junior years and posted nearly identical numbers in the same conference (Big Ten). Is this just a coincidence, or is it a reflection of two players who fit the Big Ten extremely well and are built for success?

Greene is a strong runner who possesses a unique blend of athleticism, intelligence, patience and quickness. He’s extremely patient and uses his vision and instincts to his advantage. He waits for his blockers to set up in front of him, hiding between the trees, finds openings within the defense and is elusive. He runs low to the ground and displays great balance. He's shifty in the open field and delivers a devastating stiff arm that knocks defenders off from their pursuit. Greene has to improve pass-catching skills and become a threat out of the backfield. As strong as Greene is, he doesn't consistently break tackles on initial contact.

A multi-dimensional player at Illinois as a junior, Mendenhall emerged as a first round pick in '08.
Scott Boehm/Getty

Mendenhall is a tremendously gifted all-purpose back who has great skills and quickness out of the backfield. He's an elusive runner who has great vision and awareness. He sets up opponents nicely, jukes, and makes them miss. He has quick feet and is able to stop and start without losing any momentum. He has a great combination of finesse and strength that allow him to run inside and outside, and pick up tough yards. He flashes sure hands out of the backfield and allows his blockers to set up in front of him. He picks up blitzes and is a capable blocker in pass protection.

Comparing Greene and Mendenhall is easy, especially by looking at the numbers. But it's obvious when you watch them on film that Mendenhall has the upper hand. Mendenhall's ability as a runner and a receiver make him a dynamic weapon and will allow for future success in the NFL. Greene is an exceptionally strong running back with a lot of great qualities, but it's going to be essential for him to work on his receiving ability.


A member of the Pro Football Writers of America and the Football Writers Association of America, Chris Steuber has provided his analysis of the NFL and NFL Draft prospects on the web and on the radio since 1999. Steuber’s features are published across the network and on If you wish to contact Chris Steuber, email him at:

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