I have taken a lot of heat, during my time as a football writer for making excuses for New Orleans Saints RB Reggie Bush. While others have turned their backs on him, calling him a “bust” and criticizing his performances on and off the field, I have stuck by him and his ability to be one of the most dynamic football players in the NFL.
I believe that most NFL analysts are too harsh on Bush’s contributions to the Saints. He is constantly criticized for not being able to run between-the-tackles, yet numbers indicate that he is actually significantly more successful running between-the-tackles than he is off-tackle.
Bush had an impressive 5.6 yards per carry in 2009 (compared to Pierre Thomas’ 5.4 yards per carry and Mike Bell’s 3.8 yards per carry), so the popular opinion that he “can’t run” is obviously not true.
But Bush’s biggest contribution to the Saints actually has to do with what happens when he doesn’t even touch the ball. Ask any NFL Defensive Coordinator and he will tell you that Reggie Bush is an absolute matchup nightmare.
When the Saints put him in the game, defenses almost always put an additional cornerback on the field or “spy” him with their safety in an effort to slow down his effectiveness in the passing game. This leads to opportunities for other players in the offense to have favorable matchups against linebackers, safeties, or single coverage from cornerbacks.
But fantasy football is completely different than reality—and when it comes to fantasy football, my sentiments are beginning to change regarding Bush.
Bush Doesn’t Touch the Ball Enough in the Running Game
Anyone who has owned Reggie Bush in fantasy football knows that his contributions in the running game can be very hit-or-miss. Quite frankly, it’s usually a miss.
Bush carried the ball just two times in the Saints’ opening night matchup against the Minnesota Vikings this season and had just two games with eight-or-more carries in 2009. To make matters worse, he had six games where carried the ball three-or-less times in 2009.
Though Bush can be effective running the ball, he simply is not relied upon by Sean Payton and the coaching staff in New Orleans to do so. Whether it’s the slight fumbling problem he has had since he came into the league, his injury history, or just a lack of confidence in his ability, Bush just isn’t touching the ball enough in the running game to be relied upon in that area.
His Reception Numbers Have Steadily Declined With Each Season
The big plus-side with a player like Reggie Bush is his incredible ability to create matchup problems with the defense and exploit them. This usually happens with his ability to catch the ball both out of the backfield as well as split-out wide in the slot or even on the edge.
Owners in PPR (Points Per Reception) leagues took notice of Bush’s staggering 88 catches in his rookie season, leading him to be a viable every-week starter on most teams. However, with injuries and the emergence of Pierre Thomas, Bush has caught a decreasing number of passes in each season he has had as pro.
Though his 47 receptions in 2009 are a solid number for a running back, it is just over half as many as he had in his rookie season, and not enough to make him a quality fantasy player, even in PPR leagues.
Return Touchdowns are Too Difficult to Predict
Some leagues do take return touchdowns into account and there is little doubt that Bush is one of the premier punt returners in this league.
The problem is that punt returns are just far too difficult to predict to make the return game an important part of fantasy football.
Can We Even Guarantee that Bush is the Primary Handcuff to RB Pierre Thomas?
Handcuffing your studs in fantasy football is a time-tested method of avoiding disaster when the injury bug does bite. This can even lead to some opportunities for unforeseen players to shine.
But the key is getting the right guy. If you use a roster spot on your stud running back’s backup, you need to be certain that the guy you’re getting is going to be the one who gets the carries should your stud get hurt.
If 2009 told us anything, it’s that the Saints don’t trust Reggie Bush to be their primary ball carrier. When Pierre Thomas missed time early in the season, we all thought that Reggie Bush would be the primary fantasy beneficiary. However, Bush’s carries really didn’t see much of an increase.
Instead it was now departed RB Mike Bell who stepped in, taking the overwhelming majority of the carries in the potent Saints offense, including almost all of the ever-important goal line carries.
With Mike Bell now in Philadelphia with the Eagles, Bush’s chances may be better—but let’s not kid ourselves—Mike Bell is nothing special. He was just a body that the Saints had. There really aren’t any skills that Mike Bell possesses which new Saints RB DeShawn Wynn doesn’t have.
If Pierre Thomas goes down, chances are good that DeShawn Wynn plays the Mike Bell role in the offense, while Reggie Bush continues to contribute mostly in the passing game, as a decoy, and on special teams.
When Would You Start Him?
I am often asked by other fantasy players, “Who should I pick up?”
Most often, this question can be answered by simply asking yourself the question, “When would I start him?”
When would you start Reggie Bush? Think of the best possible scenario. Imagine him playing against the worst defense in the NFL, with Pierre Thomas injured. Given that his number of carries are so low and his catches continue to decrease from year-to-year, is he really worth putting in your starting lineup?
If your answer is, “no,” then you’re in the majority.
If your answer is “yes,” then you have some serious roster problems and you should probably be looking to make some trades immediately.
Reggie Bush simply has too many factors keeping him from being a fantasy starter. Bush has had a few nice fantasy games in every year he has been a pro, but the majority of his games end with low-single-digit fantasy points, no touchdowns, and many frustrated fantasy owners.
If you’re looking at picking up a player and you can’t think of a scenario when he would be in your lineup, then why bother?
I love the guy as a player, but I can’t justify having him on my fantasy football roster.