NFL Analysis: Was Reggie Bush a Bust with Saints?

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New Orleans Saints fans were fully aware the organization wasn’t going to bring Reggie Bush back at his current 11.3 million dollar price tag. Any speculation that the two sides could renegotiate Bush’s contract ended after the Saints drafted RB Mark Ingram in the first round of the NFL draft, prompting Reggie to tweet “It’s been fun New Orleans.”

There’s little doubt that the Ingram pick combined with the March re-signing of RB Pierre Thomas marks the end of the Reggie Bush era in New Orleans. Five years, forty million dollars, and zero pro bowls after the Saints made Bush the second overall selection of the 2006 draft we can finally answer this question: was Reggie Bush a bust?

Determining whether a player was a bust is usually a black and white process because players such as JaMarcus Russell or Curtis Enis are off the roster within several years as a result of a lack of production or injuries. While Bush was plagued by nagging injuries for a couple of seasons, it’s impossible to say he was an unproductive player for the Saints on the field. In 60 games, Bush gained 4,234 yards from scrimmage (70.6 ypg), scoring 33 TDs.  He was also a feared punt returner and was widely regarded as one of the best “decoys” in the league by opposing coaches.

Here’s the knock on Reggie: he never developed into a reliable runner. While his prowess as a returner and receiver were undeniable, Bush managed to rush for a paltry 2090 yards (34.8 ypg) and 17 TDs, averaging 4.0 yards per carry. He also exhibited symptoms of fumbleitis, coughing the ball up thirteen times. Let’s compare this to the first five seasons of a similar hybrid back, Brian Westbrook.: in 70 games, Westbrook ran for 3452 yards (49.3 ypg) and 20 TDs, averaging 4.7 yards per carry. Westbrook fumbled just twice during his first five years with the Eagles.

As a receiver, Bush produced numbers beyond the capabilities of most starting receivers in the league. Reggie led all rookies with an impressive 88 receptions his first year – that’s more than Randy Moss, Jerry Rice, and Tim Brown managed during their rookie campaigns. Bush fit Sean Payton’s system perfectly, the problem was that he never became the centerpiece of the offense everyone expected him to be. Reggie never displayed the durability or toughness to be the feature back on the Saints. His saving grace was that they didn’t need him to be.

The single piece of evidence that exonerates Bush is the Saints winning the 2009 Superbowl. Bush was a major contributor during their playoff run, highlighted by a game-breaking punt return TD during the Saints 31-28 NFC Championship victory over the Minnesota Vikings. No player who is considered a genuine draft bust has managed to both win a ring and contribute while doing so. Superbowl champion and draft bust is an oxymoron and there’s no denying the fact that Reggie Bush was a Superbowl champion in 2009.

While Reggie never lived up to the lofty expectations of a number two overall pick, Bush has always been a fan favorite in New Orleans. No one’s ever accused him of being boring -- he’s managed to stay relevant in the headlines for reasons outside of his production on the field (most notably for dating reality TV stars and becoming the first player to forfeit his Heisman Trophy). While Bush may never live up to the Heisman hype, there’s no denying his contribution on the field during his time in the Big Easy negate any argument that he was a bust.