DeMarco Murray was a bust in 2015, but how you view his performance could be a matter of perspective. He finished as the No. 20 Fantasy running back in standard leagues, which is respectable, but also deceiving.
Sure, Murray had some good moments in his one campaign with the Eagles, but it's difficult to consider his performance a success. It's even worse when you consider he was a Top 15 overall pick in the majority of leagues.
And that is really the only way to measure a bust candidate - how he performed compared to his Average Draft Position. So when we analyze our early look at bust candidates here - and this will be our first of likely three versions of this column - it's hard to do without getting a good reference of draft value.
As we've said with the early sleepers and breakouts, a lot will change with the upcoming NFL Draft, but these are just players to consider who could struggle this season. I've always said about bust candidates that I hope to be wrong about these players, but these could be guys who let you down in 2016.
Andy Dalton, QB, Bengals
Dalton finished as the No. 18 Fantasy quarterback in 2015, but he would have been a Top 10 option if not for a season-ending thumb injury in Week 14. He averaged nearly 24 Fantasy points a game in standard leagues before getting hurt. We hope he can repeat that performance, but a lot has changed for Dalton heading into this season. Offensive coordinator Hue Jackson is now the head coach in Cleveland, and Dalton lost Marvin Jones (Detroit) and Mohamed Sanu (Atlanta) to free agency. He still has A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert, and hopefully the Bengals look hard at receiver in the NFL Draft. We'll see what develops there, but the last time Dalton was without Jones was 2014 when he had a foot injury. He was the No. 18 quarterback that season, and that was with playing a full year. Dalton set career highs in completion percentage (66.1) and quarterback rate (106.7), and he had a career low in interceptions (seven). Asking him to repeat those stats with a lack of continuity (at least Ken Zampese was promoted to offensive coordinator from quarterbacks coach) will be tough. For now, I have Dalton ranked as the No. 12 quarterback, but he could easily slip to a No. 2 option if this receiving corps remains the same after the draft.
Kirk Cousins, QB, Redskins
Cousins went from the backup in Washington behind Robert Griffin III at this time last season to the No. 7 Fantasy quarterback in standard leagues. It was a remarkable season that helped the Redskins win the NFC East and make the playoffs. It also inspired a catchphrase from Cousins, "You like that!" which became a rallying cry for the team. We'll see if Fantasy owners will "like that" again from Cousins this season, but you should expect him to settle into a No. 2 quarterback this year instead of being a starting option. He had eight games last season with at least 20 Fantasy points, but only five of them came when he passed for multiple touchdowns. Now, he certainly can rush for five touchdowns again, but we're not drafting Cousins because of his rushing prowess. He also had a remarkable 69.8 completion percentage, which was up from 61.8 percent in 2014 over 11 starts and 52.3 percent in 2013 over eight starts. He also combined for 14 touchdowns and 16 interceptions in those two years compared to 29 touchdowns and 11 interceptions last season. You can argue that Cousins finally got a chance to be the full-time starter and took advantage of the situation, and he's also in a potential contract year since he's playing on the franchise tag. But I'd rather pair Cousins with someone with a better track record and see if he can repeat his 2015 performance. If that happens then he should be a steal on Draft Day if he falls in your lap with a late-round pick.
Matt Forte, RB, Jets
There's a lot to like about Forte, even though he will be switching teams for the first time in his career at 30. No player has gained more total yards from scrimmage since 2008 than Forte's 12,718. He has at least 1,200 total yards in each year of his career, and the only other players to do that in each of their first eight seasons are LaDainian Tomlinson, Ricky Watters, Curtis Martin and Barry Sanders. But keep in mind you are drafting the player now and not his resume. He does benefit playing under offensive coordinator Chan Gailey. He's been an NFL offensive coordinator or head coach for 13 seasons in his career, and he's had a running back gain at least 1,200 total yards and score at least eight total touchdowns nine times, including Chris Ivory last season. But Forte could be sharing touches with Bilal Powell and Khiry Robinson, with Powell cutting into Forte's reception totals (he's had at least 50 catches in six of eight years), and Robinson could work at the goal line. If you can land Forte at the right spot (Round 5 in standard leagues, Round 4 in PPR) then you're in good shape. But if you reach for Forte on Draft Day then you might be in trouble. He could start to break down with 2,035 career carries and 487 career catches, and last year he missed three games with a knee injury. The red flags are popping up with him, and Forte is someone I plan to avoid.
Darren McFadden, RB, Cowboys
McFadden was a savior for many Fantasy owners last season when he took over for Joseph Randle and finished as the No. 15 running back in standard leagues with 239 carries for 1,089 yards and three touchdowns and 40 catches for 328 yards. The Dallas offensive line helped McFadden, but he had little talent around him with Tony Romo and Dez Bryant battling injuries most of the year. Getting those guys back healthy will help, but McFadden could lose work to Alfred Morris and Lance Dunbar or even a potential rookie. We also know asking McFadden, who will be 29 this season, to hold up for another year with a heavy workload is risky. He's played 16 games for the past two years, but he set career highs in carries and touches in 2015, which could catch up to him. Again, if you draft McFadden in the right spot - Round 6 or later - then you're in good shape, and pairing him with Morris is the move to make. But don't reach for McFadden thinking he's found the Fountain of Youth with the Cowboys. He was great in 2015, but that could be just a one-year wonder.
Chris Ivory, RB, Jaguars
Ivory had a tremendous season in 2015 with the Jets when he set career highs in carries (247), rushing yards (1,070), receptions (30) and receiving yards (217) and tied his career high with one receiving touchdown. The result was a finish as the No. 9 Fantasy running back in standard leagues, and he earned a fat contract from the Jaguars for five years, $32.5 million. In Jacksonville, Ivory will share touches with second-year running back T.J. Yeldon, and there's no guarantee he will be the starter. Coach Gus Bradley told me at the NFL annual meeting that he likes Ivory's physical style, which is understandable since the Jaguars struggled in short-yardage situations in 2015, and Yeldon dealt with knee issues. And while Ivory was exceptional last year, he struggled after Powell got healthy and earned a bigger role in the offense. Ivory had six games with double digits in Fantasy points in a standard league in his first eight outings, but he reached that mark just twice in his final seven games. If Yeldon is healthy, you can probably expect Ivory to play on rushing downs, and Yeldon will work on most passing situations and be a change-of-pace runner. Ivory is only worth drafting in Round 6 or later as a No. 3 running back in standard leagues.
Jonathan Stewart, RB, Panthers
I drafted Stewart in plenty of leagues last season, and he was excellent with 242 carries for 989 yards and six touchdowns and 16 catches for 99 yards and a touchdown. He got off to a slow start with seven Fantasy points or less in a standard league in each of his first four games, but then he scored double digits in points in seven of his next nine outings. Unfortunately, Fantasy owners couldn't use Stewart in the playoffs because he was out for the final three weeks of the regular season with a foot injury, even though some of that was due to resting for the playoffs. It's now been four seasons since Stewart has played 16 games, and he's 29 this season, which means age could be catching up to him. The good news is prior to the NFL Draft the Panthers have no one to challenge him for workhorse duties, but he's a non-factor in the passing game with 20 catches or fewer in six of eight seasons. Given his injury history, you should treat Stewart as a middle of the road No. 2 running back and not someone who was No. 6 in standard leagues last season. He should not be drafted before Round 5 in standard leagues and Round 7 in PPR.
Doug Baldwin, WR, Seahawks
I don't expect Baldwin to be a complete disaster this season, but he likely won't come close to being the No. 7 Fantasy receiver in standard leagues like he was in 2015 when he had 78 catches for 1,069 yards and 14 touchdowns on 104 targets. You can argue that Seattle is becoming more of a passing team than ever before in the Russell Wilson era, and Wilson is finally becoming an elite quarterback. But the majority of Baldwin's production came when Jimmy Graham (knee) got hurt in Week 12, and he's expected to be ready for Week 1. Including the game Graham went down against the Steelers, Baldwin had 34 catches for 530 yards and 11 touchdowns in his final six outings. That's 44 percent of his catches, 50 percent of his yards and 79 percent of his touchdowns over that stretch. As you can imagine, that's impossible to replicate, and that doesn't include Tyler Lockett getting better in his second year and Jermaine Kearse coming back as a free agent. I would draft Baldwin as a low-end No. 2 Fantasy receiver, but I expect he'll be considered a low-end No. 1 option instead. I wouldn't draft Baldwin before Round 5, but he will likely be gone by then in the majority of leagues with owners having unrealistic expectations for his performance this year.
Emmanuel Sanders, WR, Broncos
You can make a case that Demaryius Thomas should be listed here also since Denver heads into the NFL Draft with Mark Sanchez as the only proven quarterback on the roster. Yikes! Now, we know the Broncos could trade for Colin Kaepernick, Josh McCown or Nick Foles at any moment, and they will certainly look for a quarterback in the draft. And it's not like the combination of Peyton Manning and Brock Osweiler was great last season, but at least there was a rapport already established between the quarterbacks and receivers. I still value Thomas as a high-end No. 2 Fantasy receiver because if you look at coach Gary Kubiak's history then the No. 1 receiver in his offense has always been a high catch and yardage guy (see Andre Johnson in Houston). The No. 2 receiver hasn't been a focal point, although Sanders played well in 2015 with 76 catches for 1,135 yards and six touchdowns on 137 targets. That was a decline from 2014 when he had 101 catches for 1,404 yards and nine touchdowns on 141 targets, and we expect him to come down once again. A good portion of Sanders' stats came against his former team at Pittsburgh in 2015 when he had 10 catches for 181 yards and a touchdown on 16 targets. Prior to that game he had no Fantasy points combined in his previous two outings against San Diego and Oakland, so we hope to see more of the Sanders against the Steelers than those other two performances. He's still a capable No. 3 Fantasy receiver, but I wouldn't draft him as a starter before Round 6 in the majority of leagues.
Allen Hurns, WR, Jaguars
Hurns was great through the first two seasons of his career, and he could still do well in his third year in 2015. But it might be hard for him to post dominant stats with Jacksonville having a healthy receiving corps, an improved running game and defense and potentially increased playing time for either Marqise Lee or Rashad Greene. Hurns, who played through a hernia that required offseason surgery, had 64 catches for 1,031 yards and 10 touchdowns on 105 targets, and he was the No. 15 Fantasy receiver in standard leagues. But when Julius Thomas finally got going in Week 11 is when we saw Hurns tail off a little with his production, and he scored double digits in Fantasy points just twice in his final six outings. The Jacksonville front office and coaching staff is also fond of Lee and Greene and would like to give them more playing time, which would come at the expense of Hurns and not Allen Robinson. Also, with the addition of Ivory, we could see Jacksonville have more success running the ball, which would impact the entire passing game, including if the Jaguars aren't always playing from behind like we saw in 2015. We still advocate drafting Hurns with a mid-round pick, but treat him as a No. 3 Fantasy receiver instead of a starting option on Draft Day.
Anyone who drafted Fitzgerald last season was beyond thrilled with his production when he had 109 catches for 1,215 yards and nine touchdowns on 146 targets. He turned back the clock to 2007, which was the last time he had over 100 catches, 1,200 yards and nine touchdowns in the same season. But it will be hard for Fitzgerald, who will be 33 in August, to repeat those stats when Michael Floyd and John Brown are healthy, and we saw his production tail off when all three played together in 2015. Fitzgerald was dominant to open last season when Floyd was limited with a hand injury in the first five games, and he had 35 catches for 490 yards and six touchdowns over that span. Fitzgerald then scored just once in his next eight games when Floyd appeared to be back at 100 percent, with two games with double digits in Fantasy points over that span. Carson Palmer has a lot of mouths to feed with Floyd, Brown and Fitzgerald, and the younger receivers are more explosive and make more plays down the field. You should definitely target Fitzgerald as a high-end No. 3 Fantasy receiver with a mid-round pick, but don't be fooled by last year's stats into thinking he is capable of another year at that level. It could happen if Floyd and Brown miss time with injuries, but most likely Fitzgerald will let you down given his expected ADP.
Other potential bust candidates at receiver: Allen Robinson and Eric Decker
Jimmy Graham, TE, Seahawks
The reports coming back on Graham's knee injury have been positive, and he could return from the ruptured patella tendon he suffered in Week 12 last season by the end of training camp. That would be great news, but please be cautious with Graham this year based on the injury he suffered, along with his performance with the Seahawks before he got hurt. The reports on Victor Cruz coming back from this same injury were also positive last offseason, and he didn't play in 2015 after suffering a setback with his calf. Cadillac Williams and Ryan Williams were also never the same after injuring their patella tendons, and we hope Graham can beat history and return at a high level. But he looked lost leaving the Saints for the Seahawks, and he scored two touchdowns in 11 games and had just three games with double digits in Fantasy points in a standard league. When Seattle focused on him with at least eight targets, which happened six times, then he scored at least seven Fantasy points in a standard league in five of those outings. He's worth drafting with a late-round flier in all leagues, but you will likely be disappointed if you draft Graham as a starter this season.
Gary Barnidge, TE, Browns
I recently spoke to McCown at Anquan Boldin's charity event, and he told me Barnidge is "sneaky athletic," along with several other compliments for the tight end. It would make sense for McCown to praise Barnidge since the two had a great rapport in 2015 when Barnidge was a sneaky surprise with 79 catches for 1,043 yards and nine touchdowns on 79 targets. Prior to 2015, Barnidge had 44 catches for 603 yards and three touchdowns in seven years, so it's easy to suspect this was a one-year wonder. And since it's likely McCown will be gone from Cleveland or on the bench for either a rookie or Griffin you have to look at Barnidge's stats without McCown. Barnidge only had three touchdowns and two games with double digits in Fantasy points in a standard league without McCown, and he averaged 7.4 points in a standard league with other quarterbacks. Those stats could still make Barnidge a Top 12 tight end in standard formats, but expectations will be higher for him after the way he played in 2015. Hue Jackson just got done making Eifert a star with the Bengals, but if Griffin starts then he has a terrible history with his tight ends going back to college. We would still draft Barnidge as a No. 1 tight end, but let him fall to you on Draft Day instead of reaching for him just because of the way he played in 2015.
Other potential bust candidate at tight end: Antonio Gates