Eight weeks ago, the Vikings were undefeated and ranked No. 1 in DVOA. Now they're 6-6 and probably done. What went wrong?
22 Aug 2008
compiled by Vince Verhei
It started as a simple question on the Football Outsiders mailing list: What is Reggie Bush's Speed Score? It developed into a long discussion of one of the NFL's most enigmatic talents. How good is Bush as an NFL player, as opposed to just an athlete? Are the Saints using him right? Will his numbers improve in 2008? We decided to share the conversation with you, the Football Outsiders readers.
William Carroll: What's Reggie Bush's Speed Score, if we know it?
Doug Farrar: He ran a 4.37 at his Pro Day on April 2, 2006, per NFLDraftScout.com.
William Carroll: YouTube begs to differ. If my math is right and using his PFP08 weight, his score is 113.8 -- which, like Bush, is somewhat mediocre.
Aaron Schatz: The official Speed Scores only include Combine times, so if Bush ran on his Pro Day, he would not be listed in Pro Football Prospectus 2008. 113.8 is not mediocre at all. It's the second-highest of the draft class:
Bill Barnwell: I'm just not comfortable with Pro Day data, so I only used Combine times. 113.8 is good, but it's not elite. The average for all first-rounders is 112.
William Carroll: Mediocre in the overall scheme, then, and I think if you'd asked most casual fans, they'd think he'd put up a 150 or so. Bush is fast, but he's not THAT much faster than the NFL norm. To me, his skill was always being a step or two faster than everyone else. Now that he's not, he's not that good.
Aaron Schatz: Nobody is at 150. In fact, nobody has ever reached 125. Bush is fast. Really.
Bill Barnwell: I don't know about him being/not being a step or two faster than everyone else, but I know that he doesn't (yet) have the mix of speed to blow by people WITH the size and strength to go through them -- that's what Speed Score measures. Bush is agile enough that running 40 yards in a straight line does underestimate his speed.
On the other hand, he wasn't even that much of a blazer in high school, so I think maybe he isn't THAT fast.
Patrick Laverty: Those results are from his junior year. Was he state champ as a senior?
Bill Barnwell: "He also competed in track at Helix, placing third in the 2002 California state 100 meters final and posting bests of 10.42 in the 100 (the fastest prep time in California in 2002 and the fastest among the nation's 2002 senior footballers) and 21.06 in the 200 meters (third fastest prep in California in 2002). He placed second in the boys' 50-meter dash in 5.85 at the 2003 Los Angeles Invitational Indoor Meet."
Being the third-fastest high school senior in California is pretty impressive, actually.
Remember, though -- the reason Speed Score has the weight quotient in it (and exists altogether) is because size matters. If you're 5-foot-8, 180 pounds and you run a 4.33 40, it's going to be easier to bring you down and prevent you from getting out into the open field.
William Carroll: His high school films are just nuts. Tecmo Bowl Bo didn't look as good, but I would think that would be the case for a lot of guys, especially the speed ones.
I'm not saying he's not fast, just that he's not THAT MUCH faster than everyone else and that his one big advantage was that one step he seemed to have on everyone. He's like a baseball pitcher who is used to being able to throw his fastball by anyone and suddenly realizing that it's not just Albert Pujols that's good enough to get around on him, it's David Eckstein.
Bill Barnwell: That's Chris Johnson. Reggie Bush is more the guy with the plus-plus (always wanted to say that) fastball who's having his breaking stuff laid off of now.
Michael Tanier: Anybody who scouts the kid knows that:
A) He's fast enough to outrun just about anyone short of an Antonio Cromartie in the open field;
B) He's got moves that rank somewhere between Dave Meggett and Barry Sanders;
C) That he is still developing the run instincts to know when to dance and when to find holes.
The guy turned 23 in March. He is still developing. I know we assume running backs leave college as near-finished products, but the nifty-shifty guys really don't. They need to learn how to harness that ability and when to take what the defense offers. A lot of them are very inconsistent and not real durable early in their careers.
When I think of the Saints offense last year, I think of Bush getting force fed a lot of swing passes with two defenders chasing him into the flat. Payton is a creative coach, but I think he got carried away with the horizontal passes. Bush, for his part, regressed and seemed to go for the 200-yard touchdown on every play.
Bottom line is that I would be very careful to classify Bush as "mediocre" or some kind of bust. Even calling him overrated ... I know what the anouncers say, but most smart fans have figured out that the guy hasn't produced much yet. He's still a unique athlete with amazing skills and potential. He might turn into one of those guys who DVOA and DYAR have trouble with.
To finish Barnwell's analogy, he's a guy who throws so damn hard that he can keep a job even when he's inconsistent, and if the breaking pitch reaches above average levels, he's an ace and an All-Star. And unlike baseball pitchers, nifty backs have a pretty good record mastering the breaking pitch (Tiki Barber, Brian Westbrook, Warrick Dunn).
Bill Barnwell: The thing is, though, how long does Bush have to learn and harness those skills? And is he ever going to develop the level of durability and ability to run the ball consistently to be a viable starter? He hasn't in two years, and honestly, it doesn't matter how fast you are, your No. 2 overall picks need to be starting by year 3.
Doug Farrar: I said in the book comment this year that he needs to be thought of more as a player who can do different and specific things than an absolute position, and I still believe that. People need to focus more on what he is. There's already been more than enough about what he isn't.
Michael Tanier: I agree with Doug. And really, Bush is starting: He's a starting part-time halfback, part-time slot guy. He gets to be one of those criticism lightning rods sometimes. He had 1,000 yards from scrimmage in 12 games last season. This isn't some epic bust. And check his rookie year: The receiving DVOA says he was pretty darn good.
Bill Barnwell: I'm certainly not saying he's an epic bust. But it's not like he's emerged as some kind of elite player or looks like he's about to. Comparisons to Sanders (not that you were saying that, but that was the kind of athlete he was billed as coming out of school) seem silly -- Sanders was averaging 5-plus yards per carry his first two years; Bush hasn't even cracked 4 yet.
Recieving DVOA also doesn't really account for the fact that he's lining up in the slot more than virtually any other back, no? His baselines for success are totally different.
Mike Tanier: Westbrook's receiving DVOA doesn't account for his time in the slot, either. Or Kevin Faulk's or lots of other backs of that sort.
Who is comparing him to Barry Sanders? I was responding to Will saying he's kinda mediocre and a one-dimensional speedster. I don't think either statement is really accurate. He is not an elite player yet, but I would draft his ass tomorrow given the chance.
Bill Barnwell: Well, yeah, if we're just talking about the guys who succeeded. And even then, those guys had shown significantly more than Bush -- in their first two seasons with 100 carries, Dunn was averaging 4.4 and 4.2 YPC, Westbrook 5.2 and 4.6, and Tiki 3.8 and 4.7. Maybe he really is struggling to find the hole and he'll get better at it, but his total stagnation between his first and second years has to at least raise some red flags.
You can't have it both ways, though. On one hand, you're saying "He's not like anyone else" (which he really isn't), but then, on the other hand, you're saying "Here, let's compare him to these guys with somewhat similar skill-sets." Bush lines up in the slot way more than Kevin Faulk does.
I'd draft him too, but I think the point Will's trying to make is that he wasn't worth the No. 2 pick in the draft or the level of hype he received/has received. Which I think is fair.
Mike Tanier: My point is that it is too early to write him off, and that we have to be very careful calling him some one-dimensional player who will never be successful.
And you can't have it both ways by saying his yards per attempt on the ground are proof that he's bad, but that his pass DVOA is tainted because he's a receiver being evaluated as a running back.
You look at 2006, when he was one of the stars on arguably the best Saints team ever as a rookie, led the team in receiving in the playoffs, had an 88-yard touchdown in the playoffs, led the team in receptions during the regular season, had a punt return touchdown, and I think it's pretty obvious there's a great player in there somewhere. I think that was a pretty good return on the investment for the Saints in 2006. Then he has a bad year while dealing with a PCL injury. You don't write the guy off.
Oh, and Westbrook had 43 carries when he averaged 4.2 yards per carry, not 155 like Bush in 2006. While Bush was obviously a huge investment compared to Westbrook, I don't think anyone would seriously argue that Westbrook was better as a rookie. Dunn was better, but Dunn was awful in his third season, and mixed some terrible years into his career. This kind of back does that.
Doug Farrar: Between the offensive line and Deuce McAllister's injury, that offense was also forced into situations that aren't good for any offense. Eventually, you're going to run out of gas when your quarterback has to bail out after three-step drops, but he also has to throw five billion passes because:
A) Your run game is negligible;
B) Your defensive secondary is historically bad and you're playing catchup. Those guys were pass-happy even for Sean Payton, but they were pass-happy in a way that set defenses on Bush. Outlets get starved first with that type of offense, and his receiving YPA dropped from 2006 to 2007 in a way that showed this to be true.
Bill Barnwell: It's definitely too early to write him off, but Mike, everything you're saying to give the guy some rope is about his receiving abilities, and he's a running back. You're right about Westbrook, but at his first two years with 100 carries, he was averaging 5.2 and 4.6 YPC.
Unless the Saints are running the Wing-T and Bush is playing flanker, he's running out of the same spot frequently enough that his rushing DVOA is comparable to other players. The difference between him going out of the backfield for a pass and being split out is obvious and significantly more dramatic on a contextual metric that doesn't account for such a dramatic shift in context.
Mike Tanier: Contextual metrics that don't account for a dramatic shift in context? I'm sold. Is comparing the Eagles offense in 2003 and 2004 to the Saints offense in 2006 and (particularly 2007) a context shift? A dramatic one? More dramatic than the position he lines up in at the start of the formation? Lemme know, because I'm not real sure. And while DVOA lacks the subtlety to recognize that Bush isn't as good a receiving threat as he looks on paper, raw, no-context YPC is the only stat we need to measure rushing ability. That sounds a little specious.
No offense, but you're arguing stats with Mike Tanier, not Raiderjoe. Amp your game up!
Bottom line: What's the latest KUBIAK on Bush? I'll take the rushing plus receiving yards and the OVER. Want action?
Bill Barnwell: There's significantly more similarity between the situations Bush and Westbrook encountered running out of the backfield in their particular offenses as opposed to the differences they did in the passing game. I never claimed YPC was some kind of metric given to us on high, but it's indicative enough of their ability to run the ball. Even if you want to say that NO's receiving DVOA is totally off and Bush is a great receiver, that's fine. What does that make him? A fast Larry Centers? That's great, but no one's handing over $30 million guaranteed for that. If the logic is really "He needs to learn how to hit the hole," well, that's something the Saints scouts should've piped up with when the entire organization had a collective orgasm over him being available at No. 2 two years ago.
I won't take the under because KUBIAK will project him for 16 games, and he won't play them.
Michael Tanier: A fast Larry Centers. Nice. I'll stick with my "he rushed for 565 yards and caught 88 passes and returned punts for a team that finished 5th in offensive DVOA and won a playoff game, so I guess he's a pretty darn good player even though he got hurt and backslid last year."
But you AREN'T taking the under cuz you think he'll get hurt? Are you protecting me from myself? Thanks. How about an OVER-UNDER on DYAR. RUSHING DYAR. He had positive DYAR in 2006, negative DYAR this year despite higher yards per carry.Wanna do OVER-UNDER? Pick a value.
Bill Barnwell: That's true. He's not a fast Larry Centers. Larry Centers could block. I'll take the under on Bush putting up 45 rushing DYAR.
Mike Tanier: Maybe he's a more versatile Wes Welker.
45 rushing DYAR. You are on. And now about the stakes ...
At this point, the stakes of the wager remain undetermined. Any suggestions?
113 comments, Last at 09 Sep 2008, 4:42am by phil