It wasn’t too long ago when Reggie Bush dominated the college football world; the electricity and explosiveness he brought to the field every Saturday made him an instant legend at USC and ultimately a top draft pick in the NFL Draft. But four years after being the No. 2 overall selection by the New Orleans Saints, the once elusive running back and “can’t miss” prospect has yet to live up to the potential he demonstrated in college. Despite not living up to the hype, at just 24 years old, Bush remains the Saints’ top prospect.
From the moment he was drafted, there was plenty of pressure placed on his 6-foot, 203-pound frame, and from the beginning, there was some controversy surrounding the Saints’ newest sensation. After years of wearing No. 5 in college, Bush petitioned the league to allow him to wear the familiar number. But, the league turned down his request as running backs in the NFL are required to choose a number between 20 – 48. In the end, Bush decided on No. 25. On the field, Bush played in all 16 games as a rookie, starting eight, in what was a roller coaster ride of a season. He had moments of brilliance as well as periods of mediocrity, and didn’t score his first touchdown until Week 10. In limited action, Bush totaled a disappointing 565 yards on 155 carries, but scored six touchdowns [three of them coming against San Francisco during Week 13]. Unfortunately for Bush, his rookie season has been his best season physically and statistically. Bush’s development has been stalled by his inability to adapt to the speed of the game, nagging injuries and controversy that never seems to end. Over the last two years, Bush has missed 10 games due to injuries, most notably his left knee. The big concern for the Saints this season is the health of Bush. The Saints lack depth at running back and are counting on Bush to be the featured back. Bush is already having trouble with his achy left knee in training camp, and if that continues, third year backup Pierre Thomas – the sixth rated prospect in the organization – will get his opportunity to start. The Saints already have an explosive offense with Drew Brees at the helm and the cast that supports him, and with a healthy, productive Bush combined with Thomas, the Saints have a chance to have the best offense in ‘09. But, if Bush continues to struggle like he has in his career or if he’s out of the lineup with an injury for an extended period of time, the Saints will lose their versatility, and the opposition can focus on defending the pass.
Defending the pass and overall defense has been troublesome for the Saints over the years. And, in the first round of the 2008 and 2009 drafts, the Saints addressed two areas that desperately needed an upgrade, defensive tackle and cornerback. The Saints drafted former USC DT Sedrick Ellis with the seventh pick in the ’08 draft and former Ohio State CB Malcolm Jenkins this past April.
In his first year, Ellis, the No. 2 rated prospect in the organization, made an immediate impact starting in all 13 games he played in [he missed three games in the middle of the year with a knee injury] and recorded 30 tackles and four sacks. Ellis has all the ingredients needed to become a star in the trenches, and his ability to penetrate up the middle makes everyone around him much better. The run defense for the Saints hasn’t been a major problem, but the pass defense has cost the Saints victories, and that’s where Jenkins comes into play. As of press time, Jenkins, the third rated prospect in the organization, is one of seven first round picks still unsigned, which is concerning since he’s expected to be a huge contributor in his first year. The 6-foot, 204-pound Jenkins has outstanding size, cover skills and quickness that make him an elite defensive back. He has quick feet, fluid hips and has the ability to blanket most receivers he lines up against. He anticipates the action extremely well and uses his quick burst to disrupt a play. He possesses great ball skills and demonstrates game changing ability on defense. He doesn’t possess top straight-line speed, but has the intangibles to be great. Jenkins’ speed was questioned prior to the draft and many considered him to be a better safety prospect than cornerback option, but his lateral quickness and instincts make up for his not so desired deep speed. Signing Jenkins and getting him in camp to learn the defense is a high priority, and each day that he misses makes it harder for the coaching staff to put him on the field.
A player that didn’t see the field in his first year was 2007 first round pick, wide receiver Robert Meachem. Blessed with great size and speed, Meachem, the fourth rated prospect in the organization, was inactive for the entire 2007 season due to a knee injury, which required arthroscopic surgery. Not playing a single game in ’07 cast an unfair “bust” label on Meachem. Entering the ’08 season, Meachem was out to prove that he could be the big play receiver that he was at Tennessee. He got off to a great start in his first four games catching seven passes for 235 yards and two touchdowns. But, he was unable to break into the starting lineup and became a situational receiver that finished the year with just 12 receptions for 289 yards and three touchdowns in 14 games. The Saints have a nice group of receivers, and Meachem will contend for the third receiver spot on the team this season. Meachem’s main competition is the emerging Lance Moore, who appears to have the upper hand to lineup in the slot. But, Meachem’s ability to get down field and make big plays is too intriguing to ignore. At the very least, Meachem will be a redzone threat that Brees will want to target.
Before the Saints selected Jenkins in the first round this year, they stole former Indiana cornerback Tracy Porter in the second round of the ’08 draft. The fifth rated prospect in the organization, Porter started the first five games of the ’08 season at cornerback and was off to a tremendous start. He recorded 25 tackles, a sack and an interception before suffering a season-ending dislocated right wrist. The 5-foot-11, 190-pound Porter is back to 100-percent and is expected to resume as the team’s starting corner. During the offseason, the Saints added depth to their secondary with the addition of Jenkins and Jabari Greer in case of an injury. But, for them to improve as a unit, Porter will have to stay healthy, and if he does, he has a chance to become a big time playmaker.Rounding out the top-ten is the aforementioned Pierre Thomas at No. 6, defensive back Usama Young at No. 7, massive interior presence Carl Nicks locks down the No. 8 position, first year safety Chip Vaughn checks in at No. 9 and at No. 10 is hardworking linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar. Just missing the cut were ultra productive kicker Garrett Harley and defensive tackle DeMario Pressley.
A member of the Pro Football Writers of America and the Football Writers Association of America, Chris Steuber has provided his analysis of the NFL and NFL Draft prospects on the web and on the radio since 1999. Steuber’s features are published across the Scout.com network and on FoxSports.com. If you wish to contact Chris Steuber, email him at: email@example.com.