Are We Overlooking Reggie Bush in Fantasy Football?

Joique Bell has been a hot fantasy football commodity this off-season. Are we forgetting about his talented teammate?

As we inch closer to the official start of the NFL season with training camps less than a week away, all the pontificating and prognosticating we’ve done over the last few months will finally start to have context added to it. This is the time when questions start being answered, and players begin to rise and fall.

Of all the interesting positional battles across the league, one that has largely divided the fantasy football community is the Detroit Lions backfield situation.

Joique Bell has garnered a lot of off-season buzz as the guy figuring to see an increased role in 2014. He played well last season, stepping in for the injured Reggie Bush in Weeks 3 and 13, scoring a touchdown in both games.

The Lions signed Bell to a three-year, $9.3 million deal, making it clear that they see him having a legitimate role in their offensive plans moving forward.

As a result of the Joique love, the aforementioned Reggie Bush is seemingly being lost in the shuffle. Despite missing two games in 2013, Bush finished the season with 1,512 total yards and 7 touchdowns. When he was healthy, Bush showed flashes of his tremendous athleticism and reminded everyone why he was one of the most highly-touted prospects of his generation.

All of that aside, at age 29 and coming off of three-consecutive 200-plus carry seasons, it seems the general consensus is to fade Bush in 2014.

Is it safe to assume that the newly-signed Bell will indeed supplant the incumbent Bush as soon as this season? Or are we setting ourselves up for failure but writing off the uber-talented, former (redacted) Heisman Trophy winner?

Lombardi In, Linehan Out

A crucial piece of the puzzle is the arrival of new offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi, previously of the New Orleans Saints since 2007. How his offensive system will differ from previous offensive coordinator Scott Linehan's will go a long way in determining how Bell and Bush are deployed.

During Lombardi's tenure in New Orleans as an offensive assistant, no Saints running back ever eclipsed the 200-carry mark. The closest example: Mike Bell in 2009 (172).

While Lombardi was never technically in charge of the Saints offense, it’s safe to assume that his philosophy has been heavily influenced by his time in the Big Easy. So to think that either Bush or Bell will suddenly become a “bell-cow” back seems nonsensical.

Bush and Lombardi’s paths met in New Orleans from 2007 to 2010, during which time Bush caught 206 passes in 44 games played. Unless Lombardi has goldfish-like memory, he should be aware of Bush’s ability as a pass-catcher.

Although some may downplay the familiarity Lombardi has with Bush from his time in New Orleans, it could be a key component moving forward.

The Battle of Efficiency

By looking at the season-total statistics for both Bush and Bell, it would appear that they had relatively similar seasons. And while this may be true on the surface, looking at it from an efficiency standpoint, the end result is just not that simple.

Here at numberFire, we like to use our Net Expected Points (NEP) metrics to analyze how many points were added or lost due to each individual player’s performance, adjusted for down and distance situations. To get a more comprehensive description, click here.

Listed below are both players’ Rushing NEP and Reception NEP results from the last two seasons (starting in 2012, the first season that Joique saw meaningful snaps).

Player (Year)Rushing NEPPer AttemptRec. NEPPer Target
Reggie Bush (2012)-9.47-0.0421.820.42
Reggie Bush (2013)-15.36-0.0737.380.47
Joique Bell (2012)3.050.0434.590.50
Joique Bell (2013)-3.12-0.0233.720.49

As you can see, the Lions were better off giving the ball to Bell rather than Bush. Last season, Bell’s -0.02 Rushing NEP per attempts ranked 10th among 25 running backs with 100-200 carries. Conversely, Bush’s -0.07 average ranked 18th out of 22 running back with at least 200 carries.

This data flies directly in the face of those who will simply compare Joique’s 3.9 yards per carry to Reggie’s 4.5 from a year ago, and make the assumption that Reggie was by far the superior option.

From a receiving perspective, Bush and Bell were extremely effective last season, both ranking in the top five in Reception NEP per target among running backs with 40-60 receptions.

While Bell has clearly been the more efficient runner based on volume, the difference between the two in terms of receiving efficiency is much smaller. And when two players are relatively similar overall, the cost of acquisition should be a major deciding factor when preparing for fantasy football drafts.

This leads us to the final factor in our analysis: value.

ADP Analysis

According to Fantasy Football Calculator average draft position (ADP), Bell is currently being selected as the RB25 in 12-team, PPR mock drafts, while Bush is the RB14.

Bell’s ADP has stayed fairly consistent over the past month, moving up and down only a few spots. Bush’s ADP however, has taken a dive since May.

Initially going in the mid-second round, Bush has now settled into the mid-third. If this trend continues and closes the gap between the two players, Bush’s value will only rise.

Even though Bell was the more efficient option in 2013, all signs are pointing towards a split-backfield in Detroit. If you still want a piece of the action, it would be wise to keep an eye on the ADP gap between Bush and Bell in the next few weeks.

At their current draft positions, Bell currently offers better value. But the difference in ADP between the two continues to shrink, Bush could end up providing the higher return on investment.