Vic Carucci’s opening drive, Maroney better than Bush? YES


(Oct. 3, 2006) — I’m not quite ready to withdraw my preseason selection of Reggie Bush as the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year.

He remains a dynamic offensive talent who has lined up at running back, his “regular” position, and wide receiver, in the slot as well as outside. Opposing defenses often are confused about how to deal with Bush, and are always forced to account for him regardless of whether he even touches the football. His multiple skills have prompted comparisons with Marshall Faulk.

Laurence Maroney has the speed to elude and the power to shed tacklers.
Laurence Maroney has the speed to elude and the power to shed tacklers.  

Nevertheless, it is hard to ignore the dominant performance of another rookie running back, Laurence Maroney of the New England Patriots. After watching him tear through the Cincinnati Bengals defense as if it weren’t there, a pretty strong argument could be made for him to be the league’s best offensive rookie, if not its best rookie, period.

Maroney already had commanded attention for his strong debut performance against the Buffalo Bills. However, the Cincinnati game has prompted many observers throughout the NFL to begin wondering aloud if the former University of Minnesota standout whom the Patriots made the 21st overall pick of the draft is actually the better player than the megastar from USC that the Saints chose second overall (and many of us thought should have been Houston’s No. 1 choice).

Both have made strong contributions to their teams’ respective 3-1 starts. However, the numbers say that Maroney has had a greater impact than the much more heralded Bush so far.

Both are paired with established veteran backs. Although Corey Dillon is listed as the Patriots’ starter, Maroney has steadily moved toward a position of greater prominence. On the other hand, Bush serves as more of a complement to Deuce McAllister, who is listed as the starting running back (Bush has had one start when the Saints opened with a three-man backfield against Green Bay).

Maroney has carried 60 times for 294 yards, an average of 4.9 yards per carry, and three touchdowns. Bush has 45 carries for 147 yards, an average of 3.3 yards per carry, and no touchdowns. Although Maroney has caught only six passes, he has averaged 12.7 yards per reception. Bush has 23 catches for an 8.1 yards-per-catch average.

It’s hard not to be highly impressed with Maroney’s explosive burst and ability to quickly reach top speed in the open field. He shows excellent vision, he makes superb cuts, and is able to plant and turn so fast that most defenders are left to reach for air. He also has outstanding lateral movement and finds cutback lanes quickly. His balance and body control are as good as you’ll find with any running back, established or otherwise, in the NFL.

Maroney also has averaged an impressive 23.8 yards on eight kickoff returns, while Bush has a 6.3-yard average on nine punt returns.

“I’m always thinking end zone every time I touch the ball,” Maroney told reporters after rushing for 125 yards and two touchdowns, including a 25-yarder, against the Bengals. “I always try to crack a joke and tell the offensive line, ‘Let’s go one-and-out. I’m tired of being in this huddle.’ ”

Let’s see what the rest of the season brings, but right now, Maroney’s star is shining a little brighter.