Not so Fast: Is Reggie Bush Really a Difference Maker for the Seattle Seahawks?

Charlie TodaroAnalyst IIIMay 25, 2011

Not so Fast: Is Reggie Bush Really a Difference Maker for the Seattle Seahawks?

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    Bush has always been a playmaker, but rarely able to sustain his style of play over the course of a season. Is he worth the risk for Seattle?
    Bush has always been a playmaker, but rarely able to sustain his style of play over the course of a season. Is he worth the risk for Seattle?Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

    Reggie Bush’s reaction to the New Orleans Saints' first round selection of Mark Ingram started the speculation that Bush was leaving New Orleans.

    Due to Bush’s ties with Pete Carroll, Seattle became one possible destination circling within the media for the former Trojan.

    Since, Bush has apologized for his obtuse reaction and stated he wants to retire with the Saints; there is no telling what will happen when free agency begins.

    If New Orleans releases Bush, rumors of his reunion with Pete Carroll are sure to flare back up. But is Bush worth all of the hype, and money? Is there even room for him in the Seahawks backfield?

Great College Production, but Not a Given to Carry over into the NFL

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    Bush split time at running back with Lendale White at USC, sharing the load in a specialized role.

    White was the inside the tackle, goal-line runner and Bush was used all over the field, often featured out in space both as a runner and receiver; but also more exposed to the pursuit of the defense.

    In actuality, Bush and White split touches at USC and Bush carried a larger load in 2005. White had 200+ carries to Bush’s 143 in 2004, but in 2005 Bush had 203 carries to White’s 197. Additionally, Bush had 80 catches compared to 25 for White over the two year span; 425 total offensive touches for White, 426 for Bush.

    Both players played a dynamic role in the passing game—Lendale averaged 15.6 yards per catch in 2005, compared to Bush’s 12.9 average, but with nearly 3 times as many catches.

    Bush averaged a ripe 8.8 yards per carry to bring the same type of big play presence to the running game, while White scored 24 touchdowns as the featured goal-line back.  

    So if this duo was extremely productive and versatile, why the concerns about Bush's production translating into the NFL?

    Bush’s speed was well beyond the college game, and allowed him to run towards the sidelines to create downhill creases; the NFL is a north-south league, as sideline to sideline often results in going backwards. The cutbacks and angles that made Bush successful in college wouldn’t necessarily be there in the pros.

    There was no doubt Bush had the talent to be a playmaker in a specialized role and a dangerous return man—3 punt return touchdowns at USC—but would he hold up physically if asked to touch the ball 15-20 times a game in the NFL?

The Consistent Drop in Production and the Durability Concerns Realized

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    Unfortunately for Bush, his college production has rarely been reproduced in the pros, and the durability concerns have proven to be fully valid. Bush has averaged just under 14 offensive touches a game for his five year pro career. 

    The only season Bush appeared in 16 games was his rookie season, the only season he started double digit games was 2007; less of an important statistic given his role.

    What is important, however, is he’s played an average of 12 games per year his five year career, eclipsing that number once in the past four seasons.

    His rookie season was his most productive; two short of his career high in carries (155), career highs in catches (88), receiving yards (741) and touchdowns (8), but also a career low in fumbles (2); 243 offensive touches in all and one punt return touchdown.

    His second season saw a slight drop in touches, but he appeared in only 12 games. Two more carries, 15 less catches and a staggering eight fumbles. A career high 581 rushing yards, but a career low 5.7 yards per catch. Statistically more production per game, but a nearly 3 yard per catch drop and a 400 percent increase in fumbles a major concern.

    In the last three seasons (2008-2010), Bush has appeared in an average of less than 11 games per year; his carries, rushing yards, catches, receiving yards and yards per catch have dropped each season; career lows across the board, including games played, the only non-career lows coming in yards per catch and carry, though neither number impressive. 

    Bush has become more of a north-south runner in recent years-his yards per carry was a fluffy 5.6 in 2009-but his overall production, and durability, has been on the general decline from his first two seasons in the league.

    So to this point, Bush has fulfilled the expectation of being unable to live up to his college production, and also proved to be an injury risk do to his dynamic, yet unorthodox style of play.

    His role as a versatile offensive and special teams weapon on the Saints Super Bowl team proves Bush has been valuable, but the No. 2 pick in the 2006 draft has only one season with 1,000-plus yards on offense; his rookie season in 2006.

    Ronnie Brown, the 2005 No. 2 pick, had three such seasons in his first four years, less than 10 yards shy of a fourth when injured through seven games in 2007.

    Minus the championship ring, Bush has had an average career; at the least, not one deserving of the hype that comes with a No. 2 draft pick and the resulting contract.  

That Hefty Contract

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    The $52.5 million dollar man.
    The $52.5 million dollar man.Jason Merritt/Getty Images

    Bush came into the league with the burden of that No. 2 pick, and the added pressure to fulfill the expectations that came with his six year, $52.5 million dollar deal he signed to become the jack-of-all-trades playmaker in the Saints offense.

    However, the durability issues and drop in production are not in line with his current contract value; he knows that.

    Bush recently said he is open to adjusting his $11.8 million base salary, with $16 million cap number, to stay with New Orleans; an inflated salary for a player of Bush’s type, as a dynamic and not-so-durable third down and sub package, full field threat out of the backfield.   

    For Bush to be on any team in 2011, he may have to agree to reduce that cap number significantly. 

Bush Could Be a Weapon for Seattle, but Is There Really Room?

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    The Seahawks backfield wasn’t as productive as many hoped in 2010, a large part of the troubles can be attributed to the preseason retirement of offensive line coach Alex Gibbs and the 11 different offensive line combinations the team had to use throughout the season.

    The Seahawks currently have a trio of backs that complement each other well; the below expected production as a group can’t be fully placed on their efforts.

    Marshawn Lynch is a power back with decent hands out of the backfield and runs in “beastmode.” He can struggle with both pass protection and ball security; he needs to learn part of the west coast philosophy involves holding on to the football instead of sacrificing possession for yards; he had two drive killing fumbles week 11 in New Orleans as Seattle attempted to get back in the game.

    But the “beastquake” run showed what he is truly capable of—the clip above shows Lynch is practiced in his game breaking runs. His physical presence embodies the attitude Seattle wants to have as a football team.  

    Justin Forsett isn’t a breakaway runner, but he’s one of the more underrated inside runners in the NFL; he has a strong, compact frame and good vision coupled with a quick burst get him to the second level quickly, where he is shifty and tough to take down for a back his size.

    Strong hands, a good understanding of the passing game and toughness make him an asset as a three down, change of pace back; his role as a strong complement to Lynch dates back to their time together at Cal under Jeff Tedford.  

    Both players are in the last years of their current contract, Forsett for $555,000 and Lynch for $2.14 million. This is a duo that potentially packs a more powerful punch as a whole given their close friendship and desire to play with one another. 

    But then there is 2010 Second Team All-Pro return man Leon Washington. Seattle re-signed Washington to a four year, $12.5 million contract, up to $16 million with incentives, but only $3.5 million guaranteed.

    Now going into his second year recovering from a compound leg fracture, his workload should increase as the third running back; is there reason to bring Reggie Bush to Seattle?

Three Is a Trio, Four Is a Crowd

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    Leon Washington is a tough inside runner for his size, but has more straight line, sustained speed than Forsett. He is a better candidate for sweeps, slow developing screens and motion out of the backfield for downfield routes.

    Washington is the player most similar to the dynamic Bush in the Seahawks backfield, but is Bush really an upgrade?

    For starters, Washington was a fourth round pick in 2006. Even in his second contract, he doesn't carry nearly the cap burden Bush currently does--though it may be reduced in 2011.  

    Washington’s yards per carry and receptions increased each of his three complete seasons—he broke his leg seven games through the 2009 season—with the Jets; he scored eight touchdowns on 125 offensive touches in 2008, with a career high 47 catches and 5.9 yards per carry average.

    Now that you know a few of Washington’s career trends, I’ll give you Bush and Washington's 2006-2008 numbers together; 2009 goes to Bush with his Super Bowl ring versus Washington’s leg injury, but Washington bounced back strong in 2010 playing 16 games while Bush had his worst year, playing in only eight games:

    Washington: 48 games played, with 298 carries for 1451 yards and 13 touchdowns; 108 catches for 838 yards and two touchdowns, five fumbles lost.

    Bush: 38 games played, with 418 carries for 1550 yards and 12 touchdowns; 213 catches for 1599 yards and eight touchdowns, seven fumbles lost.

    Their other main similarity is a dynamic presence in the return game, Washington is kickoff specialist and strong punt returner, while Bush is a punt return specialist; Washington leads in career return touchdowns, 7 to 4.

    Including Washington’s base salary, the Seahawks backfield trio will cost less than $5 million dollars in 2011; more than a 50 percent pay cut from Bush’s current salary, already including a similarly talented player signed for about 1/6 the price.

    Reggie started quickly in 2010, but then that injury bug struck after only two games. Seattle had plenty of injury problems in 2010, but the backfield remained consistent.

    They are durable, dependent and potentially dynamic; Lynch does the grunt work, Forsett is the sparkplug and Washington can be used as a dynamic, Bush-like weapon.

    Two former college teammates in their “senior” season, playing for their jobs, and the free-agent-to-be that declared “the best is yet to come” after losing to Chicago in the playoffs; a free-agent-to-be no more, which also means there is no more room in the Seahawks backfield for Reggie Bush.