If you follow the Saints then you are certainly aware that Sunday's game marks the first in Reggie Bush's career -- college or pro -- that he enters as the featured back. While the involved uncertainty is certainly frightening, Reggie seems confident that he will achieve success:
"For me, I look at guys like Barry Sanders, Warrick Dunn, Marshall Faulk, Tiki Barber, guys who were my size, if not smaller, and who did a pretty good job at showing they could be an every-down back."
Of course Reggie is far too valuable to use as a simple pass protector on throwing downs, so expect to see Aaron Stecker in the backfield as a protector. I'm also guessing that the roles of the tight-ends will change to those of blockers on passing downs, allowing Reggie to release from the backfield lined-up against linebackers.
As far as comparisons to Reggie, the most common names discussed as comparables include Tiki Barber and Brian Westbrook, similarly-sized fellows who began as third-down backs, but evolved into featured players. Below is a table that compares the first (roughly) 185 carries of four runners:
Reggie's numbers are spread over 19 games, Metcalf's over 16, Westbrook's over 31, and Barber's over 28.
Of the four, Westbrook's rushing numbers are clearly the most impressive, though his offense also used runs as an infrequent change-of-pace between strings of passes.
The part of this comparison that most interested me is the similarity between the numbers of Barber and Metcalf. Through 187-odd carries, their rushing numbers are virtually identical. But after 185 carries, their numbers took radically divergent paths. Metcalf never received the opportunity to develop into an every-down runner. He never exceeded 129 carries during the rest of his career; he did put up 1000 receiving yards in 1995. For all his explosiveness, he was pigeonholed as a receiver, the clear case of a square peg being hammered into a round hole. Had Metcalf played during this era, it's safe to say that his numbers would look considerably different.
Barber, on the other hand, re-invented himself between his third and fourth seasons. Whereas he began as a third-down back, he added bulk to his frame and became one of the most consistent, reliable runners in the game. During the final 7 seasons of his career, he averaged 281 carries for 1359 yards (4.83 average) on the ground and 63 catches for 561 yards (8.9 average).
So which path does Reggie follow?