Running back Rashard Mendenhall is Illinois' first opening-round NFL Draft pick since 1996, when Simeon Ricae and Kevin Hardy were chosen.
April 26, 2008
Former University of Illinois running back Rashard Mendenhall became the first Illini taken in the first round of the National Football League draft since 1996 today when he was selected by the Pittsburgh Steelers with the 23rd pick. The last two Illini to be drafted in the first round were Kevin Hardy and Simeon Rice, who were taken second and third, respectively, in 1996.
"I am very happy with the selection," said Mendenhall. "I think it is a good situation for me. I am just ready to get in there and show them what I can do to contribute to this offense. I will go out there soon and sit down with the coaches and learn more about how I fit into their scheme."
Mendenhall finished his Illini career holding seven school records, including the single-season rushing mark with his 1,681 yards last season. Named the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year and Chicago Tribune Silver Football Award winner, Mendenhall played a huge role in Illinois' run to the 2008 Rose Bowl. He posted eight 100-yard rushing games and averaged 6.4 yards per carry, both school records.
He ranked eighth in the NCAA in rushing and second in the Big Ten with 129.3 yards per game. His 6.4 yards per carry ranked second among running back, nationally, and first in the conference. He was a semifinalist for both the Doak Walker and Maxwell Awards.
"I am thrilled for Rashard," said head coach Ron Zook. "I have said this many times, but I feel that all of Rashard's football is in front of him. He has so much upside and I have no doubt he will be a huge success in Pittsburgh. I have a great affection for the Steeler organization from my time there as an assistant coach. They do everything first-class. I think the Steelers got not only a great player in Rashard, but a great person as well."
|1944||Tony Butkovich, RB||Los Angeles Rams||11|
|1954||Stan Wallace, DB||Chicago Bears||6|
|1954||John Bauer, G||Cleveland Browns||12|
|1959||Rich Kreitling, WR||Cleveland Browns||11|
|1961||Joe Rutgens, DT||Oakland Raiders (AFL)||4|
|Joe Rutgens, DT||Washington Redskins||3|
|1965||Dick Butkus, LB||Chicago Bears||3|
|1965||George Donnelly, DB||San Francisco 49ers||13|
|1966||Jim Grabowski, FB||Green Bay Packers||9|
|Jim Grabowski, FB||Miami Dolphins (AFL)||1|
|1981||Dave Wilson, QB||New Orleans Saints (supplemental draft)||1|
|1983||Tony Eason, QB||New England Patriots||15|
|1988||Scott Davis, DE||Los Angeles Raiders||25|
|1990||Jeff George, QB||Indianapolis Colts||1|
|1991||Henry Jones, DB||Buffalo Bills||26|
|1992||Brad Hopkins, OT||Houston Oilers||13|
|1996||Kevin Hardy, LB||Jacksonville Jaguars||2|
|1996||Simeon Rice, LB||Arizona Cardinals||3|
|2008||Rashard Mendenhall||Pittsburgh Steelers||23|