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Fantasy football running back bust candidates in 2015

Not much is more frustrating than unwrapping a shiny new running back to start the season only for it to be the fantasy football equivalent of wool socks for Christmas. How can we avoid running back bust candidates in 2015?

The old saying goes that you can't win your league in the first round, but you can lose it. Here, we're focusing on the second part of that saying. It means that your first-round pick has to at least provide a reasonable return. You don't need to take the number one guy in fantasy to make a first-round pick worth it, but if you end up with 2013 Trent Richardson, well, see you next year.

There are two categories of busts. The first is an injury bust, a guy you draft early who is then lost for some or all of the year. Those hurt, but are fixable. Maybe you drafted the guy's backup, or maybe you have a strong bench. Either way, you can bench and/or drop the hurt guy and get on with your life. It's not ideal, but it's fair game.

The second one is the performance bust, the guy who plays most or all of the year and just can't do it. Those are the real killers. A guy you drafted in the first round is a guy with a long leash. Spend five weeks with 15 total fantasy points? Well, you were No. 6 overall this year, we gotta keep running you out there.

An injury bust hurts. A performance bust ends your year.

We're trying to identify some potential bust candidates of both varieties. Obviously these guys aren't sure to fail — if they were, they wouldn't be "busts," they'd be "undrafted" — but they are scarier propositions than some other guys you might draft in the same range.

Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings

I know, I'm on an island alone here. Peterson, who is the first overall selection of several analysts, is barely a top-10 running back for me. There are just too many issues. He's 30 and coming off of a missed year. You say rest, I say rust. He has played 16 games once since 2009. His last full season was by most measures his worst as a pro. The Vikings have Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata, who both performed well enough last year that they aren't just going to disappear. If I can get Peterson in the second round or something? Sure, I'll consider it. But at the top of the draft? Way too dicey.

Marshawn Lynch, Seattle Seahawks

The saying always goes that you would rather bail a year early than a year late, and Lynch might be this year's poster boy. He scares me this year, even if next year might really be the start of his decline. Still, he's 29, even if he admittedly doesn't have quite the tread on his tires of a normal about-to-be-30-something. And Max Unger's departure from Seattle could have a big impact on Lynch; he averaged 5.0 yards a carry in Unger's six games last year compared to 4.4 in the games Unger missed. No matter how you slice it, the Seahawks' running game was far better with Unger on the field, and we could see that difference in Lynch's production this year.

DeMarco Murray, Philadelphia Eagles

As the saying goes, the Dallas Cowboys got the yards out of Murray last year, and this year the Eagles will pay for the carries. Murray touched the ball a hair under 500 times last year, a daunting number for any running back, let alone a running back who never saw 16 games in a season before 2014. On top of that, the Eagles don't have Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles around as window dressing; they'll be involved. Murray's touches are sure to go down this year, and don't be surprised if his effectiveness drops as well.

Frank Gore, Indianapolis Colts

I'll just ask what I think is an interesting question. Are we really sure he's even the best running back on the Colts? He closed strong last year, but Gore went nine games before Week 16 without reaching 100 yards rushing. He's 32 now and tied his fewest touchdowns since his rookie year last year. Meanwhile, Dan Herron showed he had value down the stretch last season, and Vick Ballard (if he can stay healthy) is plenty talented as well. Herron is a wild card, and Ballard has missed basically all of two seasons, and Gore is almost certainly the best Indianapolis running back. But there's that little almost.

Jonathan Stewart, Carolina Panthers

With DeAngelo Williams gone to Pittsburgh, Stewart can now take the Carolina running back job unencumbered (unless you are a serious Jordan Todman believer or something). Based on his performance down the stretch in 2014 -- averaging 10.6 fantasy points in the season's last seven weeks and 12 in the last five -- Stewart is certainly enticing. The downside is that he averaged barely nine games a year the last three seasons, with injuries wrecking his value. At 28, he isn't likely to get more durable. Stewart should offer fine value as a low-end RB2. The problem is that drafting him virtually guarantees you have to spend another early-ish pick a second running back, if only as an insurance policy. And if you take someone healthier than Stewart, you can use that pick on another need elsewhere.

Reggie Bush, San Francisco 49ers

Sure, he's going low in drafts as is. You aren't structuring your roster around him. But I'd argue that the only reason anyone should be drafting Bush is if they already drafted Carlos Hyde, and even then I'm not really sold. He's a proven brittle player who is clearly on the wrong side of the aging curve. Last year, he could barely get on the field, and couldn't do much when he did. Now he's joining a San Francisco team that, if we're being kind, might only be a tire fire. If you draft Hyde, you need a handcuff. Otherwise, there's way more downside to Bush than upside.

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