Miami Dolphins running back Reggie Bush finished 12th in standard scoring among running backs last season. He was one of 15 running backs to rush for more than 1,000 yards, and of that group nobody averaged more yards per rush than he did, at 5.0. Unlike Michael Turner, Bush isn't 30 years old. Unlike Frank Gore, he isn't part of a team that openly discussed a potentially reduced workload and brought in immediate help. Unlike Darren Sproles, Bush is not dependent on receptions. So why are Turner, Gore and Sproles ranked higher and being drafted ahead of Reggie Bush?
Sometimes it takes more than one breakthrough season to convince people that past negative factors have disappeared. In Bush's case, durability had never been a strong point, but he also didn't seem to possess the running style and power to warrant more than 200 rushing attempts. While injuries and team offensive strategy (we know now) were surely a factor, Bush totaled 212 rushing attempts his final three seasons with the New Orleans Saints. Expecting 216 chances in his first season with Miami, considering the franchise chose Daniel Thomas in the second round of the draft, was folly.
Well, it happened and now we're faced with analyzing Bush's chances of a repeat campaign. I ranked him similarly to ESPN Fantasy, just outside the top 20 running backs and 50th overall, which based on what we knew heading into the 2011 season, and for a standard scoring league, is pretty good. I'd selected Bush in point-per-reception formats earlier than that before, but in a standard league, no way. Then the fellow starts 15 games for a bad team and becomes a fantasy stalwart and reliable playoff/December option, and does so with a modest workload receiving the ball. In retrospect it makes little sense.
Bush closed his 2011 season in Weeks 13-16 with four consecutive 100-yard rushing efforts, one of them a 203-yard explosion at Buffalo, and averaged 16 fantasy points per game. This wasn't Aaron Rodgers or even Billy Volek (from 2004, if you recall) single-handedly winning people fantasy championships, but you probably didn't draft or sign Bush because you expected he'd start for your fantasy team in December. His lone missed game came in the Week 17 finale, when half the key players sit. Frankly, Bush could have been a top-five fantasy running back for the season if he had been used more in September and October; from Weeks 2 through 7, he totaled 18 fantasy points. From Week 8 on, Bush outscored overall No. 5 running back Turner by 32 fantasy points, No. 8 running back Sproles by 42 points and No. 9 option Ryan Mathews by 46 points.
Can we be sure Bush will put on the same type of show this season as he did in 2011? Of course there are no guarantees, but I'd say he went a long way toward changing minds by staying healthy and producing at a higher level as a pure running back than most thought remotely possible. I know I didn't expect this. I thought the Dolphins would rely on the larger, albeit more inexperienced and apparently too-raw rookie Thomas to be their main ball carrier, but that never really came to fruition. Like many rookies, Thomas, a second-rounder from Kansas State who went 76th in ESPN average live drafts while afterthought Bush went 94th, plodded his way to 3.5 yards per carry and did not score a rushing touchdown.
It's premature to give up on Thomas, but the Dolphins certainly sent a sign his way when they selected Lamar Miller out of Miami in the fourth round. Also, rumor has it former Houston Texans surprise Steve Slaton is very much in play for third-down duties, since like Bush he's smaller in stature and a proven receiver from the backfield. Now it's a crowded backfield, except Bush is clearly atop the depth chart. I doubt Miller plays a significant role in the Miami offense this season. I also doubt Slaton gets many rushes. There's always the risk that new coach Joe Philbin turns into Mike Shanahan of the south and changes running backs on a whim, but I doubt that. Philbin knows how productive Bush was in 2011.
I'm preparing myself to admit by Week 3 or 4 that I undersold Bush for 2012 drafts, but for now he remains just on the outside of my top 20 at running back. There is, however, top-10 potential here. It's also possible he gets used quite a bit more as a receiver than last year, when he caught only 43 passes, and nine of those came in Week 1, before he really emerged. Bush caught 34 passes his final 14 games. He caught 34 passes in the first five games of his career in 2006.
Anyway, I don't like to assume bad health for someone who either was healthy last year or played through any problems. Perhaps this is a skill Bush suddenly possesses. Why can't we get 15 games again? Why can't we get more than 1,300 total yards and top-10 productivity? Well, we can. My initial rank of No. 21 at running back shows I'm a bit skeptical of the health part and also the team's quarterback play might not improve, but I'm hoping I'm selling him short. Choosing Bush late in the fifth round, with Thomas outside the top 100, feels about right.