As a Lions fan, I’m really pulling for Reggie Bush to have a big year. I mean, we’re due for a stud RB in Detroit, right? Since Barry Sanders retired prior to the 1999 season, we’ve had a revolving door of no-names (Greg Hill, James Stewart) and one hit wonders (Jahvid Best, Kevin Jones, Kevin Smith) lining up in our backfield. In the last 10 seasons, only the Cardinals have rushed for fewer yards than the Lions. The football gods clearly owe us one.
But is Reggie Bush the answer we’ve been waiting for? His first preseason game with the Lions wasn’t anything special, but we can’t draw any meaningful conclusions from a couple of series. We’ll need to dig into Bush’s measurables and the Lions’ offensive tendencies to find out.
We know that Bush is an elite athlete: when he entered the NFL in 2007, he ran a lightning fast 4.37 40yd dash, broad jumped 10’8”, and had an absurd 41.5” standing vertical (the same as Dr. J). Of course, pure athleticism doesn’t always translate to football production, and after six seasons in the league, Bush probably has lost a step or two. But compared to the guys who have preceded him in the Lions backfield, Bush is a tremendous upgrade in terms of raw skills.
Bush has also demonstrated good versatility in his career. In New Orleans, he averaged 8 carries and 6 targets per game, as the quintessential gadget player in the Saints’ offense. As a feature back in Miami who had to mash it between the tackles, his carries increased to 14 per game while his targets dropped to 3 per game. The figure below plots Bush’s average targets and carries per game by season:
For his career, Bush has averaged 15.6 opportunities (carries + targets) per game. This is not on the same level as today’s elite RBs – take a look at last year’s usage statistics for the top 10 RBs based on current RB ADP (from Fantasy Pros):
The top RBs for 2013 averaged 22.2 opportunities per game last year. Outside of his rookie year, Reggie Bush has never been given the same opportunities as those guys. That could very well change in Detroit. Over the last four seasons, Lions RBs have averaged 137 targets per season, to go along with 337 rushing attempts, so about 29.7 opportunities per game. If Bush was the only RB in the D, he’d be in line to get a lot of wear on his tires in 2013.
We know that Bush isn’t going to get all of those opportunities, of course. Mikel Leshoure is still the de facto short yardage back, and Joique Bell was impressive in 2012 (more on him in a minute). The Lions generally dole out RB opportunities pretty fairly. Take a look at their 2012 opportunities:
It doesn’t look like anybody was a real workhorse in 2012. The talk out of Detroit suggests that the Lions are going to give Bush a chance to be the man, however, and the $4 million they’re paying him this year suggests that they want to get a bunch of work out of him. To put it in perspective, the 10 high ADP RBs from earlier received 69.9% of their respective offenses’ RB opportunities in 2012. If Bush gets the same, he’ll be looking at 20.7 opportunities per game in 2013, right around Jamaal Charles’s numbers from last year. If the Lions want to get their money out of him, I think they’ll use him at least that much.
One other thing to keep in mind regarding Reggie Bush’s expected usage in 2013: the Lions are going to be starting three new guys on the offensive line this season, including both tackles. If I’m a defensive coordinator, I’m going to test that line early and often, with a lot of different blitz packages. That could lead to a lot of check-downs for Matthew Stafford, and Reggie Bush in the flat is one helluva safety blanket.
The biggest concern about Bush is his injury history: he’s missed 21 games in six seasons, which is a lot. But on the bright side, he has only missed one game in the last two years. Unfortunately, there isn’t any good way to predict whether a guy is going to get hurt or not in a given season, so we can’t bank on him staying healthy. There’s a silver lining though, in the form of native Michigander and Wayne State University alum Joique Bell. Bell was tied for fifth best pass-catching RB in the NFL last year (behind Darren Sproles, Ray Rice, LeSean McCoy, and Jacquizz Rodgers; tied with Marcel Reese). On top of that, he averaged 5yds per carry in 2012. If Bush goes down, Bell will be the guy you want, not Mikel Leshoure.
Here’s what I’m forecasting for Reggie Bush in 2013:
- Ceiling: 253 carries, 1186.6yds rushing, 4 rushTD; 103 targets, 77 catches, 731.5yds receiving, 4 recTD; 4 fumbles, 2 lost
Ceiling rationale: The Lions decide to get as much out of Reggie Bush as they can before he breaks down, and he rewards them by staying healthy for all 16 games. He gets a full 75% of the RB opportunities (about the same usage as Trent Richardson in 2012), maintains his catch rate but improves his yards per catch to the Jahvid Best range (9.5yds per catch), and manages to avoid losing too many rushing TDs to Mikel LeShoure while tying his career high for receiving TDs. He’ll still fumble a few times (like he did with the Dolphins), but nothing like he did earlier in his career (7 times in his second season).
- Floor: 192 carries, 758yds rushing, 1 rushTD; 78 targets, 58 catches, 221yds receiving, 2 recTD; 4 fumbles, 2 lost
Floor rationale: We’ve found Kevin Smith 2.0. Bush fails to impress early on, and hotseat-riding coaches Schwartz and Linehan decide to scale back his opportunities to make way the more trustworthy Joique Bell (who I can only hope continues his pace from 2012). Bush barely manages 57% of the opportunities doled out to Lions RBs, and averages a Smithian 3.95 yards per carry while ceding the vast majority of his rushing TDs to Leshoure and Bell. He still manages to catch the ball well, and performs like an average Lions pass-catching RB, with 8.25 yards per catch, but he loses most of his receiving TDs to Bell, Megatron, Broyles, Pettigrew, and even one to Leshoure, who is as surprised as anyone when Stafford feeds him a random shovel pass near the goal line.
In standard leagues, Bush’s floor projects to 111.9 points which would’ve made him the 24th best RB in 2012, and his ceiling projects to 235.81 points, which would’ve been good for 4th; in PPR leagues, his floor projects to 169.9, which would’ve put him at 23rd last year, and his ceiling is 312.8, good for 2nd among RBs in 2012.
For 12-16team leagues, all of those scenarios put Reggie Bush as a RB2 at worst, and an elite RB1 at best. If he’s still there at the end of round 2, pick him up with confidence, then grab Joique Bell somewhere in rounds 12-14. This is especially true for PPR leagues.
Reggie Bush is not going to be the second coming of Barry Sanders. However, he has the potential to be much better than anyone else the Lions have started at RB in the last decade. Some of you may reasonably wonder if Reggie Bush is capable of a career-best season in 2013. But don’t forget – he’s only 28, and the best season a Lions RB ever had was Barry Sanders’ penultimate season, when he ran for 2053 yards, at the ripe old age of 29.