Spotlight: Jonathan Stewart
posted by Mark Wimer on Aug 6th
Mark Wimer's thoughts
DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart have been among the most successful and effective backs that the Panthers have ever fielded. Of the four times that the team's backs have managed double digit TDs, Williams ranks first all-time for Carolina with his 18-TD season from 2008. Stewart posted 10 rushing TDs in both 2008 and 2009 to rank third and fourth (Stephen Davis is the other Carolina back who has crossed the 10-TD barrier so far in team history, with 12 rushing TDs during 2005). Of the five times a Carolina running back has managed to rush for more than 1,000 yards in a year, Williams ranks first (1,518 rushing yards during 2008) and fifth (1,117 rushing yards during 2009) in history, while Stewart checks in at third with his 1,133 rushing yards effort from 2009. Generally speaking, the current backfield has been a rushing-yardage and rushing-TD-producing machine.
That is, they were a rushing machine until the dismal 2010 season. RT Jeff Otah was lost for the season due to a lingering knee malady dating from December, 2009. An embarrassingly-ineffective passing game put up just nine passing TDs all year long - dead last in the NFL - and the Panthers were also dead last in passing yardage last year with a mere 2,289 net yards to their credit. With such an ineffective passing attack, the running game never really got going, and red-zone opportunities were scarce - Carolina managed a mere seven rushing TDs last year (31st in the NFL), and were led by Mike Goodson's three rushing scores. Jonathan Stewart fought through ankle woes to play in 14 games (178/770/2 rushing with 8/103/1 receiving), while Williams could only play six games (87/361/1 rushing with 11/61/0 receiving) before landing on IR due to a nagging foot injury that refused to heal during 2010.
So, what is the situation heading into 2011?
Williams will be part of a run-heavy offense designed to help ease Cam Newton into the NFL. He is just one year removed from his 2009 performance of 216/1,117/7 rushing and 29/252/0 receiving season as part of the running back by committee in Carolina. Though last season was shortened due to injury, Williams is still a young man (he'll be 28 when the season begins), and the Panthers confirmed he was their #1 RB by offering him a contract worth $43 million with $21 million guaranteed to re-sign. Though Williams is reported to be over the nagging foot injury that dogged him during 2010, we have yet to see him run and cut during 2011 and there is some lingering uncertainty due to the disappointing 2010 season. Realize that even though Williams stayed in Carolina, the Panthers will be installing a new offense under coordinator Rob Chudzinski in a very compressed time frame due to the ongoing NFL labor stoppage. Obviously, a slow start out of the gates for the team is a very real possibility.
Williams will team with Jonathan Stewart again this year. Stewart is finally healthy to begin a training camp (for the first time since turning pro), and fully participated in the first day of practices. With he and DeAngelo Williams back in the fold this year, a bounceback to levels evocative of his 2009 campaign should be possible: 221/1,113/10 rushing and 18/139/1 receiving were his results over a full 16 game season that year. Stewart has struggled with heel/Achilles tendon issues during his time in the NFL, though, and last year he was limited to 14 games played, with 178/770/2 rushing and 8/103/1 receiving to his credit. The Panthers' offense struggled mightily to score points last year as detailed above (witness Stewart's drop from 10 rushing TDs per season in 2008 and 2009 to just two last year), and they will likely spend the majority of the season breaking in a rookie QB, which could lead to a similar dearth of scoring.
However, the Panthers really have nowhere to go but up.
However rough Cam Newton's introduction to the real NFL goes, the Panthers have measurably improved their receiving corps during free agency by bringing in two highly skilled pass catchers in tight ends Greg Olsen and Jeremy Shockey. Reliable receivers at the tight end position will be Newton's best friends this season, providing him a safety valve in the short-to-intermediate range of the field. Steve Smith was impressed enough by the team's free agent acquisitions that he rescinded his trade request, and his presence on the field (as the team's best wideout) and off the field (as a veteran mentor to second-year receivers Brandon LaFell, David Gettis and Armanti Edwards) should help steady the very young wide receiving corps.
Also, Jeff Otah has returned to the offensive line and appears to finally have rehabilitated his troublesome knee, which should improve the unit's run- and pass- blocking performance during 2011. The health of Williams and Stewart is much better than it was last year - both appear to be past the issues that derailed their 2010 efforts.
- Stewart begins 2011 in the best health he's enjoyed since entering the NFL
- Stewart is young and resilient at 23, with a proven track record of production at the NFL level
- The introduction of Cam Newton to the NFL should keep the Panthers tilted towards the running game during 2011
- Stewart is the junior partner in a running back by committee
- The Panthers' offense is new to the team and that may lead to a slow start this year
- Carolina's offensive line needs to improve this year if Stewart is going to thrive in the junior role on the team
Williams should be the senior partner in the Panthers' running-back-by-committee, although the split with Jonathan Stewart will probably be fairly close to 50-50. In real NFL terms, they form one of the best 1A/1B tandems in the league, but in fantasy terms both are likely to be limited to RB #2 statistics due to an extensive sharing of the work-load in Carolina.
Quotations from the message board threadTo view the entire Player Spotlight thread (there's a ton of fantastic commentary in there), click here.
Jason Wood, Senior Writer said:
Stewart and Williams both had a chance to be preseason Top 20 back, if Williams had taken the money and ran elsewhere, yet instead he took a MONSTER deal to stay in Carolina. It's hard to imagine Jonathan Stewart could be happy about that, and that's to say nothing of rookie QB Cam Newton. Take a look at what Donovan McNabb, Michael Vick and Vince Young did in their first years as starters, and then think about what Newton's mobility it going to mean to DeAngelo and Stewart's scoring chances. If there weren't enough fantasy point for two RBs, how will the team deal with three running threats?Countingcrow said:
You'd think that DeAngelo was given some type of assurance that he'd remain the bell-cow back in this rotation. I'm sure the money was the main motivating factor in him staying in Carolina but at the same time the Panters wouldn't shell out that kind of money unless they expected him to at least maintain a big share of the carries in 2011. I'm of the opinion that the Carolina run game last season was a disappointment because of the absence of Jeff Otah and not so much an absence of a competent passing game. The Panthers as a team haven't had much of a passing game since they reached the Super Bowl years back.
I'm expecting something similar to his 2009 stat line if he can stay healthy. If I had to project his stats I'd go with the following:
230 carries, 1100 yards rushing, 25 receptions, 205 yards receiving, 10 total TD's
I won't bother trying to project Stewart's stats only because they are entirely dependent on DeAngelo staying healthy.
Jonathan Stewart projections
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