|Rashard Mendenhall (left) played in just six games last season; Reggie Bush rushed for nearly 1,000 yards.|
Running backs have made their mark on Day 2 of free agency, with the Detroit Lions landing Reggie Bush and the Arizona Cardinals grabbing Rashard Mendenhall. Which player will have a bigger impact on his new team in 2013?
Bush will come through; Mendenhall is already a bustI think Reggie Bush will have a much bigger impact. Forget his majestic collegiate career or where he was drafted. Bush became a solid NFL runner with the Miami Dolphins. He will carry the ball effectively for the Lions 15 times per game and be a pseudo-receiver out of the backfield.
Rashard Mendenhall has been a total bust, what with the issues he's had being a teammate and holding on to the ball, and also in terms of his overall play. I've gone on the record as saying I would rather field 10 guys than have Mendenhall as my running back. At least he put himself in a position to succeed, reuniting with Bruce Arians, the former Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator who now coaches the Cardinals. But I think a healthy Ryan Williams is still the best option in Arizona.
Lions are getting another potent weaponI believe it will be Reggie Bush. He is going to a team with a Pro Bowl-caliber quarterback in Matthew Stafford and a receiver who demands double coverage in Calvin Johnson. The Lions also have a good blocking tight end in Brandon Pettigrew. Bush will get the opportunity to start, and he'll also have Mikel Leshoure around to help keep him fresh.
The bottom line is, Bush will be playing with a better quarterback in a better offense. Another factor: He'll see weaker defenses in the NFC North.
Bush is well-suited for the Lions' attackUntil the Cardinals shore up their offensive line -- which is a larger issue in Arizona than the tailback or quarterback position -- Reggie Bush will make the bigger impact.
While Detroit's penchant for employing a pass-pass-run-pass-pass-pass philosophy has been ever-present the past couple of years, the good news for Lions fans (and the organization) is that Bush is an effective receiver out of the backfield. That's one thing that has never been an issue throughout his checkered career, and it should serve both sides of this deal well.
It's all about being in the right place at the right timeSuccess in the NFL is all about being in a position to do well, and Reggie Bush is in that category. He's not going to suddenly turn into a superstar -- at 28, he is who he is. But he can be a good complement to the aerial attack they have going on in Detroit. He'll be a weapon for the Lions, especially if they find ways to get him the ball out of the backfield, though he will share the load with (and lose red-zone opportunities to) Mikel Leshoure. This might not look like a great situation in two years, depending on how long Bush has before he loses a step -- and, in essence, his career.
But compared to Rashard Mendenhall on the Cardinals, Bush looks like Arian Foster. Mendenhall is a pedestrian running back. He's not special, he doesn't break long runs and he doesn't break enough tackles. He was in a great position to succeed in Pittsburgh and instead gave the Steelers diminishing returns. Now he's with the Cardinals, who still don't have a quarterback, but do have the worst offensive line in football. This doesn't suddenly solve anything for Arizona. The running game will be just like it was the past few years.
Mendenhall in line for bigger numbers, though Bush will leave his stampRashard Mendenhall had a couple of nice seasons while Bruce Arians was the Pittsburgh Steelers' offensive coordinator, so the assumption is Arians will know how to best deploy the running back with the Cardinals. Mendenhall, however, isn't the world's most instinctive or rugged runner, which is going to be a problem against the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks. (In other words, don't be fooled by the muscular physique; he's soft.)
Similarly, no one will mistake Reggie Bush for a latter-day Earl Campbell, but the Lions don't expect him to play that way -- Mikel Leshoure will be there to serve as the thunder to Bush's lightning. The Lions needed another playmaker besides Calvin Johnson, and now they've got one. Bush might not have his Heisman Trophy anymore, but he still has that wiggle.
Based on the number of touches he's likely to get, Mendenhall might wind up with bigger numbers than Bush, but Bush will have the greater impact. Now, if only either team could cobble together a halfway decent offensive line ...