Bush trade good for Daniel Thomas
I'm about to big-time you.
Last fall, I spent my Sundays in the war room at ESPN World Headquarters, watching games with the NFL Countdown guys. It was very fun, and as you can imagine, many football discussions and anecdotes eventuated. At one point, a former player, who shall remain nameless, asked me what I thought of Reggie Bush. I told him I thought Bush was an injury-prone tease whose career amounted to a pretty big disappointment.
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This former player (a skill-position guy) thought I was crazy. He asked around the room, specifically former defensive players: Who was the one player on the Saints' offense that NFL defenses feared the most? The same answer came back time and again. Reggie Bush.
Now, this apocryphal tale doesn't mean Bush is a great player, and it especially doesn't mean he's a great fantasy player. He's not. What the NFL pros meant by this is that Bush lines up all over the place, trying to create mismatches. If you're not ultra-aware of where he is at all times, you'll wind up with a defensive end or lumbering linebacker on the ultra-quick Bush, and that's dangerous. I understand this.
But I still think Bush is a pretty big disappointment.
In theory, he's supposed to do all these things to NFL defenses, but in practice, Bush has missed 16 of his past 42 games. His career per-carry average is a humdrum 4.0 (especially low considering he's not an inside runner). His reception total has literally diminished in every one of his five pro seasons. And he scored but one TD last year.
Thursday morning, Bush was traded from the Saints to the Dolphins. This is probably good news for his fantasy value. He escapes a crowded New Orleans backfield, where Mark Ingram, Pierre Thomas and Chris Ivory all toil, and goes to a Miami team that has apparently jettisoned Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams. Only rookie Daniel Thomas is plainly ahead of Bush on the depth chart, and last year we all got a healthy dose of reality for how rookie RBs can disappoint (hello, Ryan Mathews!). If he stays healthy, Bush will probably generate between 150 and 200 touches from scrimmage. He's not a terrible short-yardage option, especially around the edge, as his 17 rushing TDs from the first four years of his career indicate. And we all know he can be a force in the receiving game (he had 87 and 73 grabs in '06 and '07, respectively). But he's brittle. You can draft him as a flex if you're feeling mighty optimistic, but expecting him to play 16 games this year borders on pie-in-the-sky.
Meanwhile, this transaction is pretty great news for Daniel Thomas. Yes, he's still a rookie who missed an entire summer of working out for his new team. Yes, Bush will eat into his touches. But the Dolphins were never going to entirely hand over their RB touches to an untested dude (no matter how talented), so they were always going to acquire a veteran. Over the past few days, there were rumors that Miami was serious about signing Ahmad Bradshaw, which would've been far more calamitous for Thomas' value. Bush is injury-prone and nobody's idea of a feature back. As such, Thomas is a top-30 fantasy option, with the upside to be more than that.
(Editor's Note: The Darren Sproles signing analysis supersedes the following paragraph)
In New Orleans, the main unknown is the status of Ivory's injured foot. He required Lisfranc surgery this winter, and for the moment I'm assuming he's a distant third on the depth chart. If that's so, the main RB gig comes down to Ingram and Pierre Thomas. We all know Sean Payton likes to split his rushing workload: Over the past four years, no Saints rusher has been given more then 230 total touches in a season, and only one -- Bush, in '07 -- has gotten more than 186. Although the fantasy value of Ingram and Thomas probably gets a little clearer with Bush gone, my rankings of those guys always pretty much assumed Bush would leave. The fact is, Ingram and Thomas are going to battle each other for looks. At the moment, I think they're pretty close; Ingram looks like the favorite for plow-horse work (including short TDs), while Thomas will catch some passes and carry it in more spread formations. I like Frenchy in this type of role -- in a similar position in '08 and '09, he averaged more than 1,000 total yards and 10 TDs -- and I actually think I might draft him first. But Ingram is going to go higher in most drafts, and probably has significantly more upside.
Christopher Harris is a fantasy analyst for ESPN.com. He is a six-time Fantasy Sports Writers Association award winner. You can ask him questions at www.facebook.com/writerboy, and follow him on Twitter at @writerboyESPN.
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