Free-agent scouting report: Raiders RB Michael Bush

Posted March 08, 2012 @ 11:23 a.m.
Posted By Eli Kaberon

This is the 38th in a series of scouting reports on key players who are expected to become free agents March 13, unless they are re-signed or franchised before then.

News: The Raiders face a major dilemma when it comes to Bush. The running back has shown he can be a workhouse when given the opportunity, though he has averaged just 158 carries and 23 receptions in each of his four NFL seasons. Yet, with so much money tied up to their first-string back, Darren McFadden — who still has two years and roughly $13.6 million remaining on his contract — it might be difficult for Oakland to pay Bush as much as another team. Given McFadden's injury history, a major reason why Bush has played so much in recent seasons, the Raiders will do everything they can to keep the physical back in the Silver and Black as an insurance policy.

Notes: For two consecutive seasons, Bush has put the Raiders' offense on his back when McFadden went down with a foot injury and lead them to an 8-8 record. In 2010, despite starting only three games, he gained 4.1 yards per carry and scored eight touchdowns. Last season, with McFadden again shelved, Bush started nine games, finishing 33 yards short of 1,000 while again finding the endzone eight times. He also set career highs in 2011 with 256 carries and 37 receptions. Since missing all of his rookie season because a broken leg suffered in college, Bush has been quite durable, playing in 14 or more games every season between 2008-11.

Positives: With terrific instincts and the ability to read blocks well, Bush finds lanes in the offensive line and hits an opening with force. At 6-1, 245 pounds, he is nearly impossible to bring down in the open field by only one defender — making him a valuable goal-line runner — and he often drags piles with him on his downfield runs. In a Week 10 win against the Chargers last November, Bush showed he has the ability to be a true No. 1 running back, gaining 30-157-1 on the ground, along with 3-85-0 as a receiver. On passing plays, Bush is a good blocker on linemen and blitzers. He also protects the ball well, having lost only four fumbles his entire career.

Negatives: The Raiders' offense, whether it had McFadden or Bush in the lineup, was nearly identical, save for one major difference — big plays. McFadden is one of the league's fastest runners, and Bush lacks that extra burst to break long runs. Bush had five runs of 20-plus yards in 256 carries in 2011 (1.9 percent), compared to McFadden's eight carries of 20-plus yards on just 113 attempts (7.1 percent). Not having breakaway speed cost Bush a few touchdowns and is the reason many believe he is best-suited for a team that has a RB-by-committee approach and not one where he is the unquestioned top rusher. Also, his rushing average has dipped the past two years as his carries have increased — from 4.8 ypc on 123 carries in 2009 to 4.1 ypc on 158 attempts in ’10 to 3.8 ypc on 256 carries in ’11.

Risk factor: Moderate, mainly because of the position Bush plays. Running backs wear down quickly, and Bush will be 28 years old when the 2012 season begins. He still has a few years left in the tank, but with his punishing running style and history of injuries in college, there must be questions raised about his longevity. Because McFadden is such an injury risk himself, the Raiders would love to bring Bush back, especially as they go to more of a run-based offense under new coordinator Greg Knapp.

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