Reggie Bush: The NFL’s Great Disappointment

Following an 8-yard loss on a reverse in the Buffalo Bills’ loss to Miami in Week 16, Bills running back Reggie Bush became the first running back in NFL history to finish a season with negative rushing yards, totaling minus-3.

The less-than-unproductive season for Buffalo may be the end of the line and a fitting end for perhaps the most disappointing talent of his generation. Bush was the most dynamic college football player I have ever seen. I still occasionally dream about his highlights. I swear I have woken up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat with images running through my head of him eluding the entire UCLA Bruins defense and flipping into the endzone to cap off a 70-yard touchdown run.

He gained a then-Pac 12 record 2,890 all-purpose yards and scored 19 total touchdowns on his way to winning the 2005 Heisman Trophy (which he has since forfeited due to NCAA infractions).

He looked like a crazy combination of the best parts of Gale Sayers, Barry Sanders and Marshall Faulk against collegiate competition. He was untouchably elusive in the open field, had a top-end speed that would make Usain Bolt blush, and was an effective rusher, receiver and returner.

When the New Orleans Saints selected Bush at No. 2 overall in the 2006 NFL draft, USA Today questioned how the Houston Texans could possibly pass on him at No. 1. They asked whether we may look back on their pick of defensive end Mario Williams in a similar light to the Houston Rockets and Portland Trailblazers passing on Michael Jordan with the first two picks of the 1984 NBA draft.

But it wasn’t meant to be, he never became the Michael Jordan of football. Bush’s absurd talent never quite translated to the NFL. He topped 1,000 yards rushing only twice in his 11-year career, gaining 1,086 yards for the Dolphins in 2011 and 1,006 for Detroit in 2013 and never rushed for more than six touchdowns in a season.

He was wasted and injury prone in New Orleans’ pass-first, pass-second offense with Drew Brees. In his five seasons with the Saints, Bush was a role-player who was never allowed to shine or be the focal point of the offense. He never carried the ball more than 157 times in a season. And injuries hampered his early career, as he appeared in only 12, 10, 14, and 8 games from 2007-10.

The Saints seemed to prefer power backs such as Deuce McAllister and Pierre Thomas, begging the question why they even bothered to draft Bush in the first place. There were flashes of brilliance in The Big Easy as he created some incredible highlights, but he never produced with any consistency.

We finally got a glimpse of what he could have been in his age-26 season in 2011 with Miami. As the feature back for the Dolphins, he averaged five yards-per-carry on the way to a 1,086-yard season and showed signs of his spectacular promise from his days at USC.

He followed that up with 1,278 total yards for Miami in 2012, and had his best NFL season for Detroit in 2013. He ran for 1,006 yards and caught 54 passes for 506  yards in 14 games and called the Lions’ offense “a running back’s dream.”

And that was it. Since 2013 he has struggled through injuries and lost a step in seasons playing for San Francisco and Buffalo.

We got three years of Reggie Bush as a feature back in the NFL and he was good but never great. He wasn’t Gale Sayers, Barry Sanders or Marshall Faulk. He wasn’t even Cedric Benson. With all of that talent and all of that promise, he left us thinking about what might have been, instead of what was.

After 11 seasons, he has 5,490 rushing yards. After 10, he had 5,493.