When do I draft this guy?
How valuable is the former USC Trojans human-highlight reel-turned-No. 2 overall pick in my PPR fantasy league? After all, he's been somewhat of an NFL journeyman in his seven NFL seasons.
Many saw Bush as a perfect fit in the Detroit Lions' spread-heavy passing game months ago. After nine catches for 147 yards combined in the team's second and third exhibition outings, it's time to re-examine what type of numbers Bush could put up in 2013.
Could he be worth—gulp—a first-round selection?
Calvin Johnson's Complement and the Lions Offense
Before we start, Detroit's propensity to pass can't be forgotten.
Matthew Stafford threw—ready?—727 passes last season and 663 in 2011. His 727 attempts in 2012 set an NFL record, as did his 1,390 passes over a two-year stretch.
Presumably, the Lions don't want to throw it as often, but Stafford is essentially a lock to eclipse 600 attempts again this season. Because of that, there should be an abundance of passes to go around.
The Lions have been desperately trying to provide Megatron a legitimate complement for more than five years now, and they've been only minimally successful. As it currently stands, tight end Brandon Pettigrew, a 2009 first-round pick, is the best and most established secondary target on the roster.
He was targeted 100 times and caught 59 passes for 567 yards with three touchdowns in 2012. Though he'll be utilized differently, Pettigrew is one of the prime candidates to "steal" targets, receptions and yards from Bush this season.
Tony Scheffler, the veteran of the pass-catching bunch, was targeted 84 times last year. He caught 42 passes for 504 yards and one receiving touchdown last season.
Joique Bell Is a Threat
The greatest danger to Bush's opportunities in 2013 is Joique Bell, a 5'11'', 220-pound running back. Not only did he average an even 5.0 yards per carry in 2012, but he was targeted 68 times and snagged 52 passes for 485 yards from Stafford a season ago.
What's more, he was more elusive than Bush. Here's a Pro Football Focus (subscription required) comparison of each back's elusiveness last year:
Interesting, right? Especially because Bell is built like a power back, while Bush has a reputation as a dynamic weapon in space.
Based on 2012 stats, Bell is the better option in the run and pass game, but it's impossible to know if Detroit's coaching staff knows or cares about those advanced metrics.
Simply put, don't be surprised if Bush sees more touches and targets than Bell this season.
The Next Darren Sproles?
Fantasy owners should be more enticed by what Bush could add to their team as a pass-catcher and PPR specialist than as a traditional running back.
The former Heisman Trophy winner has never carried the ball more than 227 times in his NFL career, which is definitely not first-round fantasy pick worthy.
Neither is his 4.3 career yards-per-carry average or the fact that he's never had more than six rushing touchdowns in a given season. Though the Lions' pass-oriented offense could provide Bush a career high in targets—currently 119 in 2006—it hinders most of his fantasy potential on the ground.
However, Darren Sproles was considered a fringe first-round selection over the past few years while playing in a pass-centric offense in New Orleans that used a running back by committee.
Could Bush sneak into Round 1 due to the "Sprolesian" role he's expected to play in Detroit?
Sproles has been more efficient accumulating yards, but Bush has scored touchdowns and caught passes at a higher rate in his career.
Here's a look at what Bush's 2013 stat line would look like if he gets 10 more carries and 10 more targets than his current career highs:
That's first-round pick material.
Ultimately, though, that chart represents an absolute high-end projection for Bush and was assuming he didn't get injured.
Give Me an Answer Already!
The following running backs shouldn't be threatened by Bush's potential in the Motor City from a fantasy perspective: Adrian Peterson, C.J. Spiller, Jamaal Charles, Doug Martin, Marshawn Lynch, LeSean McCoy, Trent Richardson, Arian Foster and Alfred Morris.
They are all either more efficient, will see a heavier workload and/or will score more touchdowns.
Ray Rice could be included, but there's a good chance his fantasy value takes a hit with the emergence of Bernard Pierce. Matt Forte has become somewhat of a forgotten fantasy commodity. He hasn't been given more than 300 touches since 2009.
Therefore, in a 12-team league, Bush could be considered a first-rounder if you're making a late-round selection. Bush's teammate, Calvin Johnson, may be the safer pick at that juncture if he's still available.
If you're willing to lean on Bush as a receiver first in an extremely pass-predicated offense while dismissing his injury history and truly believe Bell won't be the go-to screen option, go ahead, take Bush with the last pick in Round 1.
But if you're leery about any of that, take Bush in the second or third round.
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