Brian Allee-Walsh

Looking back on the '06 NFL draft that landed the Saints Reggie Bush

ALEX BRANDON/ASSOCIATED PRESS/2006The drafting of running back Reggie Bush, center, in the 2006 NFL draft helped lift the fortunes of the New Orleans Saints after a 3-13 season the year before.
ALEX BRANDON/ASSOCIATED PRESS/2006The drafting of running back Reggie Bush, center, in the 2006 NFL draft helped lift the fortunes of the New Orleans Saints after a 3-13 season the year before. ASSOCIATED PRESS

NEW ORLEANS -- Nearly 10 years have passed since 21-year-old Southern Cal running back Reggie Bush fell like manna from heaven to the New Orleans Saints in the 2006 draft.

I can remember the night before when word leaked out that the Houston Texans at No. 1 had agreed to a contract with North Carolina State defensive end Mario Williams, essentially delivering the nation's premier college running back on a Black and Gold platter to a city, region and NFL fan base still in shock from a catastrophic weather phenomenon called Katrina.

I can remember the morning of Day 1 when NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue made the call: "With the second pick of the 2006 NFL draft, the New Orleans Saints select Reggie Bush, running back, University of Southern California."

From a personnel standpoint, the pick seemed frivolous at first blush since the team already employed standout running back Deuce McAllister, a proven commodity as the 23rd overall pick in the 2001 draft.

But Reggie Bush wasn't just anybody. He was seen as a godsend, a silver lin

ing and ray of hope and another step on a long road to recovery for a wounded NFL franchise coming off a nomadic 3-13 season.

Sure, Saints GM Mickey Loomis and first-year coach Sean Payton could have gone the conservative route, perhaps traded down and picked up an extra pick or two. But these were desperate times. They needed to rock Who Dat world.

They needed to make a marketing splash and give season-ticket holders reason to spend their few disposable dollars on themselves rather than their homes and other life essentials.

So when the Texans lassoed Williams -- dubbed one of the biggest draft mistakes in NFL draft history by one ESPN analyst -- the Saints' prayers were answered ten-fold.

And to think, seven years earlier, Saints coach Mike Ditka made Texas running back Ricky Williams a one-man draft in 1999 by sending a gift-wrapped package of eight picks to the Washington Redskins.

In addition to Bush, the Saints' brain trust collared safety Roman Harper, guard Jahri Evans, tackle Zach Strief and wide receiver Marques Colston in the '06 draft, all of whom played a major role in the Super Bowl XLIV championship season of 2009. Imagine how that draft would be viewed today if Payton had realized the value of fifth-round pick defensive end Rob Ninkovich of Purdue, who later became a stellar performer for New England after twice being cut by New Orleans.

Second to none in franchise history, perhaps, only surpassed by the 1986 draft that featured Jim Dombrowski, Dalton Hilliard, Rueben Mayes and Pat Swilling.

Only Strief remains from that 2006 draft and he's clinging to a job at age 32.

Ten years later, Loomis and Payton would be well served to catch lightning in a bottle again, beginning with the 12th selection in Round 1 on Thursday (7 p.m., NFL Network) and with subsequent picks (Nos. 47, 78, 112, 152 and 237) Friday and Saturday.

A good pass rusher would get the ball rolling in my opinion, say, either defensive end Shaq Lawson or Louisville defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins at No. 12, or Clemson defensive end Kevin Dodd if the Saints would trade down in the round.

None of those players would make the splash that Reggie Bush did 10 years ago.

Then again, these are different times. No splash is required. A clean dive into the college talent pool would do just fine.

Brian Allee-Walsh, is a long-time Saints reporter based in New Orleans. He can be reached at sports@sunherald.com.

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