32 Questions: New Orleans Saints
Thirty-two teams, 32 burning fantasy questions. Throughout the preseason, we put one of these questions to an ESPN.com analyst for an in-depth look at the most interesting, perplexing or dumbfounding fantasy facet of each NFL team. Be sure to check out all 32 questions.
Is Reggie Bush ready to be a first-round fantasy pick?
There's no question that Reggie Bush should be a fantasy starter in 2007. That ship sailed around the time the now-departed Houston Texans administration decided to get clever by passing on the Prez, giving offensive-minded Saints coach Sean Payton the ultimate Christmas gift in April. But there's no getting around the continued presence of Deuce McAllister in this offense. In fact, considering that Deuce totaled 244 carries to Bush's 155 last season, and considering that goal-line touches will continue to be McAllister's domain almost exclusively, it's fair to argue that Bush isn't even the No. 1 running back on his own team. So should he be the No. 1 running back on your fantasy squad?
In standard-scoring leagues, I don't think so. Bush deserves an early second-round selection, but if you're picking him to be your fantasy feature back, you're signing up for a year of roller-coaster rides.
There's no question Bush got better in '06, running side-to-side less and forward more. In the season's first eight games, he totaled 207 yards on 81 carries (2.6 yards per carry); in the year's second half, he rushed for 358 yards on 74 carries (4.8 yards per carry). Bush was involved in the passing game right away and wound up with 88 catches, 10th-most in the league (one catch ahead of Chad Johnson); his 742 receiving yards put him second among running backs, behind only Steven Jackson.
Still, even amid this impressive rookie production, Bush carried the ball from scrimmage more than 15 times only once all season, and more than 13 times only twice. His 155 total carries put him 37th in the league, 23 behind Justin Fargas. That lack of consistent action led to some stinky fantasy weeks, even in the second half after his light bulb had gone on. In Week 12 against Atlanta, he had five carries for 24 yards and three catches for 21. In Week 15 against Washington, he had seven carries for 14 yards and five catches for 19. Do all fantasy backs go up and down a bit? Of course. But Bush can give you the bends.
Compare Bush's production with a man he resembles, Philadelphia's Brian Westbrook. Westbrook caught 77 passes for 699 yards in '06, lost the same number of fumbles as Bush (two), had slightly better yards-per-catch and yards-after-catch averages, and scored four times via the air to Bush's two. The difference between them, of course, was rushing opportunities. Westbrook totaled 240 carries to Bush's 155, amassed 1,217 rushing yards to Bush's 565, and had a 5.1 yards per carry compared to Bush's 3.6. And while Westbrook is a first-rounder in any league you care to mention, I think it's difficult to argue he should go higher than, say, sixth or seventh, tops. Without Deuce McAllister in tow, you could probably put Bush right alongside him. But Deuce is here.
McAllister may have sat for last week's Hall of Fame game, but he has healed from his latest arthroscopic knee procedure and is expected to play extensively in the Saints' next few preseason contests. He won't ever be as fast as he was those first few years out of the University of Mississippi, but in 2006 he was a grinding, powerful, punishing runner who took more carries than Bush in every game but one (not counting the year's final week, when Deuce sat altogether). McAllister gathered steam toward the end of the season, topping 20 carries in four of the Saints' final five meaningful contests. His rough style is perfect for the goal line, and he punched in eight scores from inside the 10-yard line (six from inside the 5).
I do think Bush needs to be drafted higher than Deuce because of his explosiveness. And if McAllister's knee winds up not being right (every indication from the Saints is that he's fine), Bush becomes a fantasy feature back. In addition, if you play in a league that awards a point for every reception, Bush definitely does bump up into the first round; despite the fact that defenses will scheme to stop Bush in the passing game more frequently, he's going to catch 60-plus balls. But in standard leagues, since the Saints will feature a platoon for now, Bush is a second-rounder. I'd have too hard a time justifying selecting a platoon back, even one as awesomely talented as Bush, in the first round of a fantasy draft.
Christopher Harris is a fantasy baseball, football and racing analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.