Spotlight: Reggie Bush

posted by on Jun 29th


's thoughts

It happened some time around 8:30 central time on January 4, 2006. Until then, Reggie Bush was drawing comparisons to Gayle Sayers and a host of other football greats. The discussion was not whether or not Bush would be a great NFL running back but rather HOW great would he be...? He was a force of nature on the field, using speed, agility, vision and smarts to gain yards by the boatload. He caught passes, ran outside, ran inside, scored touchdowns and generally upstaged everyone on the field as he looked like a man among boys.

But at 8:30 CST that night, a chink in the armor appeared. Bush took a hand off from quarterback Matt Leinart in Pasadena, California as the USC Trojans battled the Texas Longhorns for the BCS Championship. Bush received the ball and headed left towards the sideline. Against Fresno State or Arizona a play like this would typically result in a large gain and possibly another breathtaking touchdown. But against the Longhorns stout defense, Bush was wrapped up by safety Michael Huff for no gain. Not everyone saw the ramifications of the play, but those of us that did no doubt thought the same thing: "Reggie Bush isn't fast enough to get to the corner against NFL speed."

You know the rest: Bush gets drafted second overall by the Saints, struggles to run the ball in traffic but is very effective as a pass catcher and return man. Mix in the occasional injury and the Saints use of other backs to shoulder the load, and Reggie Bush is a very well-paid, very-dynamic, complementary player. Here we are, four seasons later, and Bush's role is different then most everyone expected it to be: he's an important part of a potent offense but far from a fantasy superstar.

Bush's most valuable trait is impossible to quantify but nonetheless important to fantasy owners and NFL defensive coordinators alike. Despite Bush not revolutionizing the game of football and despite his inability to outrun linebackers to the sidelines every time he touches the ball like he did in college, Reggie Bush is still a threat to score from anywhere on the field at any time. As a result, defensive coordinators have to account for him on every play and fantasy owners have to give him strong consideration on draft day. Reggie Bush is one of only a handful of players in football that can take a "7 carries, 22 yards" day and turn it in to an "8 carries, 105 yards and a touchdown" day in the blink of an eye.

Through four seasons Reggie Bush has averaged 13 games played per year. His carries have dropped each year that he's been in the league to a career-low of 70 in 2009. His reception totals have also fallen from 88 as a rookie to a mere 47 last season. His 725 yards from scrimmage in 2009 also represent a career low, but his 8 touchdowns ties his career best. Even though Bush has given up the majority of touches out of the backfield to Pierre Thomas, Mike Bell, and Deuce McAllister over the course of his career, he still has made the most of the touches he has received by finding pay dirt once in every 14.6 times he touches the ball.

The fact is that Reggie Bush's actual role in the Saints offense isn't very different from the roles of Kevin Faulk in the Patriots' offense (average of 120 touches per season in the last three seasons) or Darren Sproles in the Chargers' offense (124 touches on average in the last two seasons). Bush is counted on to be a "change of pace" back that spells the bell-cow and finds his way on to the field in unique and critical situations.

So why is Bush being drafted in the mid-6th round while Sproles (9th round) and Faulk (18th round) go so much later? Three reasons:

1. Fantasy owners hold out hope that Bush will get back to the same level of production as his rookie season when he posted over 1300 total yards from scrimmage, 88 receptions, and 8 touchdowns.

2. Fantasy owners hold out hope that the "once in a lifetime" talent from Bush's college days will awaken in the NFL, and they don't want to miss out on the upside.

3. As mentioned before, Bush is capable of scoring from anywhere on the field at any time.

For the purposes of this season, it is important to recognize what Bush isn't as much as what he is. Reggie Bush is NOT the feature back of the New Orleans Saints. He is NOT an effective between the tackles runner nor will Sean Payton expect him to be. And he is NOT the Saints featured runner near the goal line.

With these facts in place, an Average Draft Position of RB28 (RB25 in PPR leagues) seems awfully high for a player with Bush's opportunities. Keep in mind that Bush's year-end fantasy finishes since entering the league are RB17, RB24, RB36, and RB36. That's not to say he can't or won't exceed those levels of production, but to do so would require Bush staying healthy and continuing to convert a high ratio of touches in to touchdowns. Even the most aggressive projections only show Bush with ~200 touches and 7 or 8 scores. Unfortunately, those numbers would place him at or near his average draft position. That certainly isn't a bad thing until owners realize that the caliber of player they would be passing on to draft Bush - players like C.J. Spiller, Kevin Kolb, and Jeremy Maclin - offer just as much upside as Reggie Bush and likely possess a better opportunity to reach that upside.

Positives

  • Dynamic playmaker capable of scoring at any time.
  • Integral part of one of the league's most potent offenses.
  • Tremendous pass catcher, making him all the more valuable in PPR leagues.

Negatives

  • Are his declining number of touches year over year a sign that the "bloom is off the rose" and the Saints are looking elsewhere for offensive production?
  • Is Bush's true value more as a decoy to the defense then as an actual ball carrier?
  • Clearly not the feature back of the Saints.
  • Historical difficulty in staying healthy for a full season.

Final thoughts

Reggie Bush is a a special breed of player but, unfortunately, his appeal is limited. While he can certainly score from anywhere on the field, he is also as likely to put up woefully unproductive numbers for weeks at a time when he doesn't score a touchdown. Like Vince Young - another participant in that legendary BCS Title game - Bush's "great" games light up the score sheet while the rest of his games leave a near-empty spot on rosters. Is Bush worth drafting this season? Absolutely, particularly in PPR leagues, "Best Ball" leagues, and leagues that award return yardage to individual players. But even as you consider drafting Reggie Bush, give careful consideration to what you are passing on to have him on your team. While he will no doubt provide some great performances, both for fans and fantasy owners, he's also likely to have a high number of games where his presence is barely felt on the fantasy scoreboard.


Quotations from the message board thread

To view the entire Player Spotlight thread (there's a ton of fantastic commentary in there), click here.

benson_will_lead_the_way said:

He had less than 150 touches last season.....not sure he is anything more than a RB4.

Only 8 or more carries twice last season.
Also 5 or more catches only 4 times last season....that is the lowest in his career.

bushisdaman said:

Bush is a much more useful player for the Saints than the Fantasy Football owner because of the split backfield approach and the fact that he is more of a receiver than the hard nose straight ahead runner. He can explode some weeks with some nice TDs and vanish others. If I had a FF championship on the line I would hope he was on but would be nervous about it. I would say low RB 2 perhaps RB3.

rzrback77 said:

I think that Reggie Bush will outperform most expectations this season. When I watched him down the stretch and into the playoffs, he was finally running hard and decisively. I think that his nicks bothered him more than was generally admitted to and he will be more effective in 2010. My recollection was tempered when I looked over his statistics down the stretch. He was more effective like I recalled, but not used as much as I thought.

From Week 14 through the playoffs, a period of seven games, the last three of which were do or die, Bush had 31 rushing attempts for 230 yards 7.41 ypc and also had 30 targets 24 catches 195 yards 8.13 ypc and 4 TDs. In ppr scoring, that would amount to 91 fantasy points or 13.0 per game and he had only 55 touches (just shy of eight per game).

I know the losing Mike Bell is not that big a deal to the Saints, but when you assess Bell's production in 09 and consider Bush's effectiveness over the last seven games, it gives me some optimism. When you also consider that Reggie Bush is currently the RB 26 at 64 overall, it seems to me that he is a value pick that allows selection of more top WRs early and waiting on RB2.

Iwannabeacowboysbaby! said:

He will look like an elite back at times next year, his knees will swell up and there will be crucial game time decisions as a fantasy owner at best when you own Reggie Bush. He's never finished in the top 15 overall at RB in fantasy so to me he would have been labeled a bust if the Saints didn't go ahead and win a SB. I think Reggie will be best used in spurts during the season and they'll try and keep him fresh heading into the playoffs. It worked last year, I think they'll keep that in the back of their mind when that knee starts to swell again as Reggie's 1 year older.


Reggie Bush projections

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