By now you may have heard that Reggie Bush wants to lead the league in rushing this season. That may have drawn a chuckle from you. I want a toilet seat made out of solid gold, but that’s just not in the cards, is it?
Not so fast regarding Bush.
Let us begin with Bush’s own history. Up until last season, his highest rushing total was 581 yards with the Saints in his second season. He was known a soft, injury-prone running back throughout his years in New Orleans. As such, not much was expected out of the former Heisman winner-then-loser last season with the Dolphins. Surprisingly, however, he topped 1,000 yards in 15 games, averaging 5.0 YPC in the process. He has improved his elusive rating three years in a row and from 30.6 to 34.0 from 2010 to 2011. His breakaway percentage also improved from 14.7 to 32.8. Perhaps having the job largely to himself helped do the trick.
Was it an aberration or can he do it again?
That is a big question mark for the six-year veteran heading into a contract season. The only time he played a full 16-game slate was his rookie season, when he only started eight games. One of the factors going into low expectations for him last year was durability, having come off a broken leg in 2010. His health is a big concern going forward. Perhaps playing on grass instead of turf helped — Bush once blamed the carpet in New Orleans for his injuries during his time with the Saints. He has no such issues on Miami’s grass.
At any rate, if he can stay healthy, the bigger question is how much opportunity he might get in the new Miami offense. In one corner stands the argument that Green Bay Packers running backs have not exactly lit up the league in recent years with Joe Philbin helping run the offense. Or have they?
Evidently we have short memories. The past two seasons have been less productive for Green Bay running backs, yes, but Grant’s good seasons in 2008 and ‘09 made a relatively hot fantasy commodity in ‘10 — he was the 13th running back off the board on average according to Fantasy Football Calculator, just behind Jamaal Charles — before going down for the count with an injury, pressing largely ineffective Brandon Jackson into service as a starter. After coming back from his injury he was basically in a 50/50 timeshare with James Starks last season at the whim of Mike McCarthy.
I do not expect Bush to be in such a dramatically split committee this season.
Running backs are not exactly chopped liver in Philbin’s offenses, but is that data even relevant? According to Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald, the Dolphins will be running an offense that will be much more like the West Coast version Sherman ran at Texas A&M. What do running backs in Mike Sherman offenses look like? Here is how the teams’ running backs fared with Mike Sherman as an offensive coordinator, assistant head coach, or head coach throughout his career:
Considering he had to deal with Samkon Gado in 2005 and Ron Dayne in ‘06 and ‘07 and the fact that college running backs simply play fewer games, these numbers are an excellent harbinger for Bush’s production this year. We have not even begun to talk about Bush’s abilities as a receiver.
Last season Bush had just 43 catches, which would have been a career low had he not caught just 34 passes in an injury-shortened 2010 season. That is bound to change in this new offense. Not only will the offense throw to the running back more than last year, but the Dolphins could be exploring using Bush in the slot. This will give him ample opportunity to catch more passes and stay on the field while giving him a spell at running back. Look to Ahman Green rather than Gado or Dayne when evaluating pass-catching numbers — the latter two were simply not good pass-catching running backs.
With a wide receiving corps that features Brian Hartline and Davone Bess and the potential for a rookie to be the starter at quarterback, I expect the Dolphins to utilize Bush quite a bit this season.
An improvement on the offensive line should help as well — the Dolphins were in the middle of the pack with a -31.6 rush block rating. Jonathan Martin should be a drastic improvement over Tackling Dummy Marc Colombo (-26.8 overall rating) at right tackle, and whoever replaces Vernon Carey at right guard should be better — the aging veteran was playing out of position. Getting Jake Long back to full strength will be a big plus as well.
What does all this mean for his fantasy production? All the evidence points to a big year for Reggie Bush. His own breakout coupled with Mike Sherman’s offense could land him in the top 10 among fantasy backs, particularly in PPR formats. While this may be a gamble, the risk is being built into his ADP — he is the 23rd running back off the board at Fantasy Football Calculator and the 22nd over at My Fantasy League. Getting him as a back-end RB2 or your RB3 will pay off.
Taking everything into account, here is my admittedly optimistic projection for Bush in 2012, assuming he can stay healthy:
Those fantasy scores would have put him at no. 8 in standard leagues and no. 5 in PPR leagues last season. Maybe Bush can your golden toilet seat this season.
Questions and comments are always welcome via Twitter – @PFF_Alex