Carlos Osorio/Associated Press
|Lions Coaching Changes
||Jim Caldwell (replaces Jim Schwartz)
||Joe Lombardi (replaces Scott Linehan)
||Teryl Austin (replaces Gunther Cunningham)
Heisman Hype, Hope and Hamstrings
Reggie Bush had his best statistical year as a pro in 2013.
The feature back in offensive coordinator Scott Linehan’s pass-happy scheme, Bush started the season looking like he had finally found the right system to reach the full potential many foresaw in 2006, when the former Heisman trophy winner was drafted second overall by the New Orleans Saints.
Entering his eighth NFL season last year, Bush posted two monstrous performances of 180-plus total yards and a touchdown in Weeks 1 and 3 of the regular season.
As for Week 2? Bush had 25 rushing yards on nine attempts, hindered by a strained groin muscle from the prior week’s massive workload.
Though Bush may have finished the year as a low-end RB1, his production was erratic. But anyone who’s owned Bush since he left New Orleans in 2010 knows that this boom-or-bust production characterizes his career as a lead back.
At age 29, Bush has enjoyed three straight seasons as a top-15 fantasy running back; however, over that span, he’s had 10 performances of 125-plus total yards mixed in with 20 performances totaling fewer than 75 yards.
While Bush is clearly one of the most athletically gifted athletes at the position, he’s been a frequent flyer on the injury report, dealing with (disclosed) injuries to his ankle, knee, shin, hamstring, fibula, groin, neck, hip and calf, since coming into the league. These cumulative health issues have undoubtedly kept Bush from ever putting together an entire season of the elite-level production he’s capable of on a week-to-week basis.
Back to the Bayou
Looking forward to 2014, Bush will face his fifth new offensive system in as many years. But this newest system should actually be familiar to Bush, as he will be reunited with Joe Lombardi, formerly of the Saints.
Taking over the reigns as Detroit’s offensive coordinator, Lombardi’s offense is expected to “mimic what New Orleans has done with deploying a multitude of tailbacks,” according to Lions team president Tom Lewand in a report from Kyle Meinke of mlive.com.
The team re-signed Bush’s teammate Joique Bell to a three-year, $9.3 million contract this offseason and added fullback Jed Collins, with the intention of using “more two-back sets,” per Meinke.
In all likelihood, this would move Bush into the Darren Sproles role, employed in New Orleans after the Saints replaced Bush with Sproles in 2011. This role would cater to Bush’s greatest strengths, allowing him to make plays in space and serve first and foremost as a receiver out of the backfield. Meanwhile, power-runner Bell should shoulder more of the early-down and between-the-tackles workload.
Eyes on the End Game
According to ESPN Detroit’s Michael Rothstein, Bush is “fine with [his] potentially reduced workload” under this new regime.
Focused more on his own longevity as a player and the importance of staying healthy for a possible playoff run, Bush understands that “even if the workload is less for both [himself and Bell], that’s only going to help us to stay healthy and probably play a little bit stronger and better toward the end of the season.”
While his rushing attempts should dip considerably from the 223 he saw in 2013, Tim Twentyman of the team’s official website could see Bush’s 54 receptions from last year “significantly increased in 2014”—a reasonable prediction considering Sproles averaged 77 catches during his three-year tenure with Lombardi and the Saints.
An injury-prone running back headed into his ninth professional season is typically a situation to avoid in fantasy. But Bush is a special talent, and, when healthy, his ceiling is as high as any player in the game.
Joique Bell has earned a bigger role in the offense after a breakout season, and it appears the team plans to give him that opportunity. Using Bush in space and limiteding his between-the-tackles carries should help preserve him throughout the season. So, although Bush’s overall production should decline as a result of fewer touches, keeping Bush fresh should help him become a more consistent weekly option.
Draft Bush as a safe RB2 in standard leagues, and a low-end RB1 in PPR formats.
All statistics courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com unless otherwise indicated. All contract-related information courtesy of Spotrac.com.
James Paradis is a fantasy football featured columnist for Bleacher Report. Be sure to check out his entire archive on fantasy strategy and analysis.
Follow @JamesParadisNFL on Twitter