When Reggie Bush won the Heisman Trophy in 2005, I remember a friend of mine telling me Mississippi State running back Jerious Norwood could have won the Heisman, too, if he had played at Southern California. At the time, I thought he was being a homer. He was an MSU season ticket holder, after all.
A little over five years later, I'm starting to think he may have been right.
Of course, in 2005, Bush's junior year and final season at USC and Norwood's senior year at MSU, Bush rushed for 600 yards more than Norwood, on only nine more carries.
Bush was then drafted No. 2 overall by the New Orleans Saints, as you know, and Norwood was picked up in the third round by the Atlanta Falcons.
Five years after that 2006 draft, both Bush and Norwood are at a crossroads in their careers. Bush is due $11.8 million from the Saints next year under his current contract, and New Orleans just drafted another Heisman-winning running back in the first round - Mark Ingram - prompting Bush to tweet, "It's been fun New Orleans." No one seems to know for sure if Bush will be a Saint next season.
It appears Norwood has been replaced on Atlanta's roster by Jacquizz Rodgers, a change-of-pace running back/returner from Oregon State, who the Falcons drafted in the fifth round in April's draft. It would be a surprise if Norwood is still a Falcon in 2011.
Bush, naturally, is the higher profile of the two backs, having won a BCS National Championship, a Heisman and a Super Bowl, and then having one of those three taken back a few years after being the second player picked in the 2006 draft.
Saints head coach Sean Payton has said repeatedly he wants Bush to stay in New Orleans, firmly stating that Bush is an integral part of their offense.
But if I were Payton and Saints general manager Mickey Loomis, I'd cut Bush as soon as the lockout ends. Then, I would sign Norwood.
Think I'm crazy? Let's take a blind look at their career stats.
• Player A: 57 games played, 375 carries for 1,995 yards (5.32 yards per carry), 96 receptions for 912 yards (9.5 yards per catch) and 121 kickoff returns for 3,084 yards, an average of 25.5 per return.
• Player B: 60 games played, 524 carries for 2,090 yards (3.98 yards per carry), 294 receptions for 2,142 yards (7.3 yards per catch) and 92 punt returns for 720 yards, an average of 7.8 yards per return.
Player A is Norwood. Player B is Bush.
Yep, Bush has had 149 more career carries than Norwood, and he only has 95 more yards to show for it - 95 yards on 149 rushes is .64 yards per carry, not that it matters. Norwood averages over two more yards per reception than Bush, despite the former Trojan constantly being referred to as home-run threat every time he gets the ball in open space.
Bush's longest carry the last five years went for 55 yards and no touchdown. Norwood's: 78 yards and six points.
Bush has received his fair share of criticism for not always being healthy, but not nearly as much as Norwood. The Falcons drafted Rodgers to replace Norwood not because they thought the former Bulldog wasn't good enough, but because they thought he wasn't healthy enough. But Norwood has only missed three fewer games than Bush. 14 of Norwood's missed games came off one injury, when he went down in week two of the 2010 season.
They've both been injured, but at least Norwood has been consistent about it. When he was down, he was down. It seems the Saints list Bush as questionable nearly every week. And hey, in only three fewer games, Norwood has significantly less wear-and-tear in a league that goes through running backs like Jamarcus Russell does pancakes.
I understand why it happened, but Bush is a product of college success and the media. I'm sure when I referred to Bush as a home-run threat you had images in your head of Bush tearing up the sideline and diving for a touchdown. We've seen Bush on SportsCenter's top 10 plays more than a few times.
But Norwood makes the same plays. It's just that no one cares. Starkville isn't nearly as sexy as Los Angeles. The Egg Bowl isn't quite as big of a deal as the Rose Bowl. ESPN doesn't run an hours-long special for the Conerly Trophy (given to the best collegiate player in Mississippi) like they do for the Heisman Trophy. Third round picks don't get the attention of No. 2 overall picks. It's just the way it is. I'm a part of the media; I understand.
But if you're a coach, scout or player personnel executive, you shouldn't be fooled by what major news outlets spoon-feed you. Anything Bush can do, Norwood can do, maybe even better, and he does it for a heckuva lot less cash.
Type Jerious Norwood into YouTube and watch a couple videos. Pretend No. 32 is No. 25 in a Saints jersey, and you wouldn't know the difference. In fact, go ahead and click on the second video that comes up (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IZ5BPNovBes) and you can see Norwood turn a simple bubble screen into a 67-yard touchdown against, you guessed it, the New Orleans Saints.
So if you're the Saints, why do you hold on to Bush? I can answer that. Pride. As I've said a few times now, New Orleans drafted Bush, the former Heisman winner and national champion, with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2006 draft. If they cut him, they admit he was a bust. They admit they made a mistake. That's why it's easy for the Falcons to cut Norwood. There's no shame in cutting a third rounder after five years.
My message to the Saints is simple - swallow your pride. Let Bush loose. If he thinks he's worth $11 million, let him hit the open market and find out for himself.
If the Saints, or any team for that matter, are looking for a change-of-pace, third down running back, call up Norwood - J-Rock to his fans - as soon as this lockout ends.
He's no less injury prone than Bush. He's more productive, with far fewer miles on his speedy legs. And he comes at a greatly-discounted price.
Maybe Jerious Norwood could have won the Heisman, but it doesn't really matter now. What I do know, is that someone ought to sign him, and the Saints should be at the top of the list.