This question is prompted by Dan Shanoff, who wrote this morning that New Orleans RB Reggie Bush is essentially Devin Hester with a devastating salary cap hit for his team attached — certainly not the revolutionary RB that he had been projected as back in the 2006 draft. The pretty basic point about Bush, so far, is that he isn’t a between-the-tackles guy, and the breakaway speed he showed at USC isn’t quite so unique at the pro level, where even the mediocre linebackers are often fortified with SEC speed.
But the second, short part of his assessment of a possible “Bush-like” label for current college football star players with similar skills is a bit lacking:
There is an incredibly strong class of Bush-like players coming to the ’09 NFL Draft: Jeremy Maclin (a draft-eligible redshirt sophomore), Percy Harvin and Derrick Williams, to name the Top 3. Will the “Bush-like” label help or — to bring it back to the ’08 Election — hurt?
Labeling Percy Harvin with that brush may not be terribly far off, and that’s really the fault of his coach, Urban Meyer. Meyer’s refusal to devleop actual running backs in Florida’s offense (don’t tell me you have Emmanuel Moody and Chris Rainey and can’t use either one of them in the backfield efficiently) keeps Harvin from developing more straight-ahead route-running skills, and he still seems to be somewhat raw at it. But as far as Jeremy Maclin and Derrick Williams go, those two — and many of your multi-option threats in that vein — are on the depth chart as wide receivers; they know how to run all the routes asked of them by their coaches. You see plays run for them to get them into the backfield, not out of it — end arounds, reverses, etc. to throw wrinkles into the offense (and you can include Harvin there, easily.) Those types of trickery are part of the playbooks of most of your NFL coordinators; they work best with a WR who has the basic skills, so defenses can’t peg it as a play for that particular multi-dimensional player right off the bat.
Hester is learning that at the NFL level, and Bush is pretty much turning into a slot guy and outside-running back at the pro-level. Those aren’t good comparions at all. I think there is a better one out there, and considering how his rookie season has gone so far, “the next DeSean Jackson” might be the label that Maclin and Williams are looking at. So far, Jackson has two scores (one a punt return TD) and 335 receiving yards in 5 games. That’s not bad for a rookie that wasn’t expected to crack the starting line-up when camp opened.
Maybe Bush should have been a very short slot receiver instead. Hell, he might not have as many endorsements or that fat contract, but there are worse things to be in the NFL than Wes Welker.