I was pointed on Twitter yesterday to a page where ESPN was having you re-rank the draft class of 2006. Pretty neat tool to get some insight on the public, eh? So the good news first: Mario Williams is in first place by a long shot. America seems to be pretty decently smart on that, even despite how badly they overrate skill position players since those guys matter in fantasy football.
Reggie Bush is ranked 14th, and Vince Young is ranked 22nd out of the 30 players. Why is the public so high on these guys? Because Bush and Young finished with the fourth and seventh most ballots where they were named the best player in the entire draft. I really can't help but think that the media narrative has shaped this result more than any actual play on the field.
Look, let's be fair, Reggie Bush has turned into a cromulent third down back. Not worth a #2 pick, certainly, and never will be, but he's put together a career that isn't completely awful. Anybody who would rather have him than Joseph Addai (#17) clearly just doesn't watch much actual football. Vince Young has shown flashes of greatness, but zero consistency in his career thus far. He was benched last Sunday, his pocket passing remains a work in progress, and he's contributed a lot of off-field drama that Tennessee was probably hoping he wouldn't, especially in the wake of Pacman Jones.
The difference between these two and the guys who are great players behind them: Tamba Hali (inexplicably 28th) and Johnathan Joseph (inexplicably 26th) is two-fold. People know who Young and Bush are, of course, because they were high picks and played for teams that have made the playoffs (in Bush's case, with wild success) in recent memory. But more importantly: the football media, which overfocuses on wins and correlations around wins, can't look past the equation of: (High Draft Pick + Rise In Wins = This Guy Rules!!!!). Young in particular has embodied the mantra of "Just Wins Games," yet last I checked football was a team sport, and every good Tennessee team has been led not by Young, but a stellar defense and a good running game that Young happened to look adequate next to before actual playoff games started.
Bush, on the other hand, continues to be called a dangerous weapon and a key cog for the New Orleans running game. When he was hurt on Monday Night Football, the commentators lamented his loss and what Pierre Thomas couldn't do that he could. Well, sure, Reggie Bush is a dangerous weapon. In the way that he is a good receiving running back and that Sean Payton knows how to use him. However, if we're going to call him a dangerous weapon, then we could conceivably call say, Steve Slaton a dangerous weapon as well.
Given some circumstances, Steve Slaton can be quite dangerous. Given some circumstances, Vince Young can win enough games to get you into the playoffs. Given some circumstances, a butter knife can be a weapon you can commit a deadly assault with. That doesn't make any of them optimal solutions.