Reggie Bush’s journey to fantasy stardom has resembled one of his highlight reel runs from his days at USC: long, winding and astounding.
In his time as a Trojan, Bush was nothing short of remarkable. Simply put: he was one of the most electrifying running backs in the history of college football. Every time Bush got the ball — every single time — you braced yourself for something magical.
Bush entered the NFL with more hype than any running back in recent memory. That hype extended to the fantasy world, where Bush was an owner’s dream — a potent running back who could rack up points as a runner and receiver. His ceiling was that of a more explosive LaDanian Tomlinson.
He was that talented.
After being drafted by New Orleans second overall, Bush entered 2006, his rookie season, slotted in the mid-teens (fun list to look at, by the way) in most preseason running back rankings.
He finished his initial campaign with 204 fantasy points, amassing 565 rushing yards, 742 receiving yards and nine total touchdowns (including one return score). That made him the 11th-ranked back in standard leagues. Not too shabby for a rookie.
Everyone expected his ascent to one of the top fantasy players would begin in year two, and rightfully so, but things spiraled in the opposite direction. Bush dropped to the 25th running back in 2007, 26th in 2008, 37th in 2009 and 70th in 2010 as his role with the Saints became more specialized each season.
Bush excelled as a pass catcher, boosting his status in PPR leagues, but struggled as an every-down back. He couldn’t get the edge as easily as he had in college and wasn’t effective running between the tackles; not a good combination for a running back. Injuries also were a problem as Bush missed a total of 20 games in his five years with the Saints, including eight with a broken leg in 2010.
Fantasy owners — and New Orleans — gave up on the thought of Bush as a No. 1 running back long before 2010, but Bush’s time with the Saints officially expired after that season. New Orleans shipped him to Miami for Dolphins back-up safety Jonathon Amaya, and the two teams also swapped sixth-round draft picks.
Leaving Drew Brees and the Saints’ high-octane offense didn’t figure to do much for Bush’s fantasy numbers. In fact, Bush didn’t even enter the 2011 season as the top back in Miami. ESPN ranked Bush 38th, three spots behind promising rookie Daniel Thomas.
Just when no one was expecting much out of Bush, he became the stud he was supposed to be all along.
It didn’t happen right away in South Beach. Bush failed to crack the century mark and had merely one touchdown — a receiving one at that — in Miami’s first six games. Those fantasy owners who held on to him reaped the rewards in the second half of the season, especially during the playoffs.
Bush seized the Dolphins’ starting gig for good with a 15-carry, 103-yard effort against the Giants. He scored four rushing touchdowns over the next three weeks before going bonkers down the stretch.
Over the final four games of the season, Bush was one of the top running backs in fantasy. He eclipsed the 100-yard barrier in all four weeks, averaging 129.8 yards per contest. Amazingly enough, Bush nearly had as many rushing yards in the final four games of the year (519) as he did in his top rushing season with New Orleans (581).
Running with newfound aggression and power (see: 4:35), Bush found consistent success running between the tackles for the first time in his career. Adding that to his elite pass-catching skills made him the player fantasy owners had been dreaming of since his days at USC.
Bush finished 2011 with 1,086 rushing yards, 296 receiving yards and seven total touchdowns. He racked up 177 fantasy points, which checked in 13th among all running backs — ahead of Matt Forte, Frank Gore and Rashard Mendenhall.
Not only did last year mark his first 1,000-yard rushing campaign, it nearly doubled his aforementioned career high (581). Good health played a role, as well. Last season was the first time Bush suited up for as many as 15 games since his rookie year.
Bush opened 2012 with a solid 11.5-point showing (69 rushing, 46 receiving) against a stingy Texans’ defense. He followed it up with a monster 172-yard rushing performance last week against Oakland, his fifth 100-yard game in his last six outings dating back to last season.
Bush gashed the Raiders for 172 yards on 26 carries, finding the end zone twice, and adding three grabs for 25 yards — a sparkling 31.7-point fantasy day.
Because of his injury history and failure to live up to the hype early in his career, Bush probably will always be viewed through a skeptical eye in the fantasy world. Playing alongside a rookie quarterback and one of the league’s worst receiving corps isn’t a glowing endorsement, but the Dolphins will utilize Bush, their lone dynamic playmaker, as much as possible.
Although it’s a small sample size, Bush has the sixth-most carries (40) and second-most yards (241) through two games. As a receiver, he has nine catches on 10 targets, the sixth-most targets for any back. Bush is the central focus of the Dolphins’ offense and figures to be among the league leaders in touches at the end of the year.
I definitely wasn’t sold on Bush this preseason and neither were most fantasy prognosticators. I mistakenly counted off last year’s strong finish as Bush catching lightning in a bottle. I just didn’t believe that Reggie Bush could resurrect his career.
But it’s time to start believing. Bush has turned himself in to a reliable top-15 running back, with the upside to finish inside the top 10. His explosiveness, skill as a receiver and ability to produce big plays make him a must-start option every week.
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