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Posted: Thursday January 28, 2010 9:28AM; Updated: Thursday January 28, 2010 2:35PM
Michael Rosenberg
Michael Rosenberg>INSIDE THE NFL

Bust? Saints haven't figured out what to do with Reggie Bush

Story Highlights

When Saints drafted Reggie Bush in '06 he was supposed to revolutionize the NFL

But Bush hasn't thrived in New Orleans because he's been misused as a RB

Bush is a unique talent and, if put in the right situation, can be a gamebreaker

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When put in the right situation, Reggie Bush has showcased his explosive talent.
Simon Bruty/SI

The subject is Reggie Bush, and whether you think he is overrated or underrated, you are correct.

Bush was supposed to revolutionize the NFL -- if he had lived up to his draft hype, the league would now be playing football on the moon. and Bush would be the best player there, what with his famed ability to "make plays in space." Instead, he is the fifth- or sixth- or eighth-most important player on his own offense. This is not what the Saints had in mind when they drafted him with the second overall pick in 2006.

So: Overrated? I see why you would say that.

And yet ... when you watch Bush at his best, you can see why his college highlight films are covered in drool. Normally with draft busts, you can tell why they failed. Cade McNown didn't have the talent. Ryan Leaf had the talent but not the attitude. Tony Mandarich ran out of drugs and Charles Rogers did not.

Bush looks just like he was supposed to look. But he doesn't look that way enough. It's strange.

Bush's signature play in the Saints' NFC championship win on Sunday was when he sneaked onto the field and told Brett Favre to throw a foolish pass ... wait, no, that's not it. His signature play was when he lined up for a punt return and should have called for a fair catch. Instead, he tried to return the punt with a guided missile heading for his chest, then got hit and fumbled.

That play summed up Bush's whole career: it began with the anticipation he would do something magical, and ended with him trying to do something you just can't pull off in the NFL.

Maybe Bush isn't cut out for NFL stardom. Or maybe the NFL just hasn't figured out how to make Reggie Bush a star.

The fact is that, when you strip away the hype, the Saints used the second overall pick in the 2006 draft on a guy without a position. Oh, sure, Bush is listed at running back, but that's because whoever filled out his draft form had to list him as something. Calling him a running back is like saying the new iPad is a computer. It might be technically accurate, but the label doesn't feel right.

Bush is not really a running back. Bush's heroics at USC overshadowed this, but in his last two years at USC, Bush only carried the ball 343 times. His teammate LenDale White had 400 carries. Even if you count receptions, White still had more offensive touches than Bush did.

In the epic 2006 Rose Bowl against Texas, when USC went for it on fourth-and-two from the Texas 45 to try to seal a win, Bush wasn't even on the field. White got ball (and only got a yard). In the game, White ran the ball 20 times and Bush only ran it 13.

Bush's natural position, then and now, is "weapon." Elite NFL running backs have to get the tough yards -- on third-and-two, on fourth-and-one, when their team is killing the clock. Bush didn't even do that in college. Is it realistic to expect him to do it in the pros?

Bush's skill set is similar to Minnesota rookie Percy Harvin, who combined with Favre to fire up the Vikings' offense this season. He can win almost any one-on-one matchup and can score from almost anywhere on the field.

For whatever reason, the Saints have never quite figured out how to use Bush. This happens a lot in the NFL. The Falcons had a hard time figuring out what to do with Michael Vick, who had breathtaking skills but was not a classic quarterback. The Titans are finally getting Pro Bowl-quality play from quarterback Vince Young, who is also a unique talent.

And the Saints had an excellent excuse for failing to adapt to Bush's skills: it wasn't necessary. Coach Sean Payton has constructed the most explosive offense in the league without much help from Bush. Payton's job is to score points and win games, not just figure out how to use Reggie Bush.

Still, I think somebody will figure it out. If the Saints really do let Bush go after the season, I hope he finds a team with a creative offensive coordinator -- somebody who sees him as part receiver, part Wildcat quarterback, sometime running back and some other thing I'm not smart enough to invent.

I still think Reggie Bush can transform a team. But first, some team has to transform Reggie Bush.

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