Win. Your. League.

Receive 3 Free Downloads More Details

Spotlight: Jonathan Stewart

posted by Dave Larkin on Jul 30th


Dave Larkin's thoughts

DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart.

Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams.

No matter which way you look at these two talented running backs, you must consider them together. And herein lays the problem for fantasy owners and their capacity to project the fortunes of these players for the upcoming season - they are together.

DeAngelo Williams, apart from an injury-shortened season in 2010 in which he carried the football only 87 times, has been remarkably consistent despite the presence of Stewart:

In three of four seasons with Stewart joining him in the backfield, Williams has averaged 5.2 or more yards per carry. Ignoring 2010, Williams has finished each season in the top 27 running backs, including his outstanding 2008 campaign.

Table: DeAngelo Williams' career statistics since the arrival of Jonathan Stewart in 2008

Year Team Games Rush RuYds YPR RuTDs Tgts Recs RecYds YPC RecTD FPTs Rank
2008 CAR 16 274 1,518 5.5 18 30 22 121 5.5 2 284 1
2009 CAR 13 216 1,117 5.2 7 40 29 252 8.7 0 179 14
2010 CAR 6 87 361 4.1 1 12 11 61 5.5 0 48 63
2011 CAR 16 155 836 5.4 7 25 16 135 8.4 0 139 26

As of the writing of this spotlight, Williams' ADP is settling around the RB31 range, meaning he is being taken after the likes of Jahvid Best and C.J. Spiller in non-PPR formats. To draft Williams after Best and Spiller, two players who are due for fewer snaps than the Carolina back, seems absurd to me.

The Panthers' all-time rushing leader has been a factor in the big play department, adding to his overall value. One could argue that the inconsistency in predicting such breakout runs is the issue itself, but in truth no-one can predict these things. What we can say for certain is that Williams still has the breakaway speed to score on long runs and receptions. The statistics prove this: in 2011, 48% of his runs were of the 15+ yard kind. This is despite carrying the ball only 155 times.

Skill set:

  • quick
  • elusive
  • short-area quickness
  • heavily featured on option plays

Jonathan Stewart's career is waiting to take off elsewhere, but one wonders if he could carry the full load with the foot injury he still deals with. In the absence of Williams, however brief those stints were, Stewart showed how powerful and sustaining a runner he can be.

Stewart brings a different dimension to the Panthers' rushing attack - one of power, aggression and fearlessness. His current ADP of RB28 is a reflection of the general consensus of the fantasy community, I believe, that being that Stewart is simply the more talented of the Carolina running backs.

I would be hard-pressed to disagree with that, especially when you consider that Stewart was a heavy feature of third down pass-blocking last season. Stewart had 47 receptions to Williams' 16 as a result. While Stewart may not be the best pass blocker, he is adequate and the coaching staff trusts him.

Skills:

  • power
  • speed
  • strength
  • willingness to pass block
  • goal line runner

A New Toy
Cam Newton may not be as prominent a factor in the goal line rushing attack, or in the rushing attack as a whole, in 2012. Newton's 142 rushing attempts in 2011 will be reduced. While the Panthers will not depart completely from this facet of their game plan, it will be toned down. No signing summed that up more than the low-cost acquisition of former Chargers RB Mike Tolbert.

A third dance partner in the backfield
The net effect of the signing is that Newton will carry the ball less in the red zone, but the Williams/Stewart axis will still remain a factor all over the field. Their open field skills are superior to that of Tolbert, but one has to remember that Tolbert is an adept pass-catcher and caught 54 balls in his final season with San Diego.

Positives

  • The potential for an RB1 performance on a weekly basis
  • If you invest in one of the Carolina backs and the other goes down to injury, a bounty of 20+ point weeks are on the cards
  • The talent level of both Williams and Stewart demands that they will get their touches and use them wisely

Negatives

  • Like Forrest Gump's box of chocolates, you just never know what you're going to get
  • Mike Tolbert knows the Rob Chudzinski offense well, having spent time with him in San Diego. Tolbert could steal goal line touches and some third-down responsibilities
  • Carolina remains a pass-first offense, and the defense may not be good enough for them to "salt away" games with the run in the latter stages of contests

Final thoughts

As frustrating as it is, the 2012 version of the Carolina backfield may look eerily similar to the 2011 version, only with a downtick in the overall numbers for Williams and Stewart. Tolbert's presence will be felt strongly in this offense and despite his position designation as a fullback; he will contribute in many ways. Williams and Stewart have the talent to be Top-15 backs on a week-to-week basis; they could also be in the RB3 realm.


Quotations from the message board thread

To view the entire Player Spotlight thread (there's a ton of fantastic commentary in there), click here.

Gawain said:

I see no reason Rivera and Chudzinski deviate from the offensive philosophy of 2011. The Panthers main problem was on the defensive side of the ball. 450 carries and 2400 yards should be an obtainable number again for the Panthers.

The problem for all us fantasy owners is that there are at least three or four ways for those yards to be split up. 2011 showed us that Stewart is assuming the main role in the passing game. For PPR leagues, Stewart gains a bit more value.

While many (myself included) have thought a Stewart takeover was going to happen in 2009, 2010, 2011...it never did. I don't think 2012 is the year either. The Panthers have found a winning running game by rotating both backs and it is unlikely the coaching staff will stray from this approach.

The main factor in the Panthers RBs achieving reliability as every week flex players hinges on the number of rushing TDs that go to the RB position, as opposed to Cam Newton. I don't think 14 rushing TD's for Newton is a sustainable number, so I expect a few to come back to the RB position. However, Tolbert's presence at the goalline may be a negative factor for Williams/Stewart owners.

Bayhawks said:

Last year, the Panthers only had 307 rushes out of their RBs. Why? The answer is fairly clear: Cam Newton. He had 126 carries. It is reasonable to assume that he will run less, as he becomes more comfortable in the Panther offense, at reading NFL defenses, and if he has other, viable receiving options besides Steve Smith. I think all 3 things are likely to happen in 2012, so I think he'll run less, but I still see him getting 75-100 carries. I also think the Panthers will run their RBs a little more this year. I see it being pretty close to a 50/50 split between Williams and Stewart, though.

Williams:
180 carries, 850 yards, 7 rush TD, 10 rec., 90 rec yards, 0 rec TD

Stewart:
170 carries, 814 yards, 8 rush TD, 39 rec., 308 rec yards, 1 rec TD

In non-PPR, Stewart would be a weak RB2, with Williams a RB3. However, both offer more potential value than that, if an injury were to strike the other (although Tolbert would likely get more touches in that scenario).

Chase Stuart (Footballguys.com Senior Writer) said:

Stewart has three things working in his favor:

-- Cam Newton will steal less carries from the RBs

-- Carolina as a team will run more, in the aggregate

-- Stewart should get a higher percentage of the RB carries

The Panthers will run more because they're going to be a better team this year. The Panthers ranked only 14th in rush attempts last year, and they should be in the top five or ten this season.

That might bump them from 445 to 475.

Newton should drop from 126 carries to maybe 90 carries.

That means the amount of non-Newton carries jumps from 319 to 385. Last year, Stewart had 45% of those carries. In his contract year, I expect the Panthers to ride him more; why waste the mileage on Williams? If he gets 55% of those carries, he goes from 142 to 212.

A 70-carry increase could mean big things for him. He should hit 1,000 yards and 6 touchdowns on the ground, and still be a solid receiver. If you grab a TE and a QB early, along go WR heavy early on and either a TE or QB, Stewart could be a great RB2 for an otherwise loaded team.

PhantomJB said:

Wow. The logic behind Stewart seeing his carries increase a whopping 50% just doesn't seem to be backed up by anything tangible IMHO.

Where is the evidence that Cam will run less? Last season a whole lot of us thought the same thing as the season wore on but in fact out of Cam's 125 carries slightly over 50% (63) were in the last eight games.

Most believe that Cam's passing skills have nowhere to go but up. Why put the shackles on ostensibly your best offensive weapon in an increasingly pass-first league? Again, last year when everyone thought the CAR RB's were in for a big year with the green new rookie.

The contract year argument just doesn't seem plausible to me as why Stewart should get more carries than Williams. Again, last year conventional wisdom was that DWill was going to be The Man because he just got the big contract. That logic obviously was wrong.

Plus the addition of Tolbert is going to cut into everyone's carries.

Chudzinski is the new Shanahan when it comes to the running game. Carolina is the first-ever QB/RB/FBC.

I agree that CAR will have a Top 5 running game, probably around 2600 yards. But predicting how those yards will be distributed in a way other than similar last year's distribution (adding in a small slice for Tolbert) doesn't seem well-supported IMO.

Projections
Williams - 170/900/9 ; 15/150/0
Stewart - 160/850/7 ; 45/400/2
Tolbert - 50/200/3 ; 15/150/0
Cam - 120/700/9

nittanylion said:

IMHO, the big reason why Carolina wouldn't primarily run Cam Newton inside the 5 yard line is, in short, because it's now 2012. In 2011, the Panthers spent the season learning just what they had in their star QB. He exploded onto the NFL scene with an absolutely MONSTROUS statistical season that no one predicted. The Panthers turned him loose, and let him show them what he was, unencumbered by developmental goals and expectations, and enjoyed the ride. 2011 was also the rest of the NFL's 'getting to know you' 1st date with Newton as well, and that unfamiliarity contributed in some measure to his success. As happens every year, once the season ended, and the honeymoon phase of the relationship, everyone had a chance to sit back and reflect, evaluate and analyze 16+ hours of game film. Now, the real work begins for both the Panthers coaching staff, and Defensive Coordinators of 31 other NFL teams.

It's basic, common sense transitional football strategy, which we see engaged in, year in, year out. The Panthers have come to grips with the fact that they have a legitimate Franchise Player who's the cornerstone of their Offense. He can be a great pure QB if he's allowed to develop, and doesn't get hurt. They also have to have come to grips with the fact that they are excitingly close, and if anything happens to Newton, they can't put anyone on their roster under center who can make their offense anywhere near as effective and as mismatch oriented as it is when he's delegating the scheme. That directly affects the effectiveness of every other skill position player. On the flip side, Defensive Coordinators across the League have to have come to grips with the fact that a key to neutralizing the Panthers Offense is physically punishing him as a runner when he chooses to carry the ball. IMHO, it has to be focal point of every DC's strategy that when there's an opportunity to physically defense a running Newton, teams have to take their shots. Physical vs physical, only this time, they aren't learning on the fly, but via film and experience. Whatever they are, Newton has weaknesses to his game, that NFL caliber DC's are going to find and exploit this off season, including how he defends himself as a runner. He will be defended differently, and aggressively. There will be ways to punish Cam the runner, cloud his thinking, and force him to be indecisive instead of instinctive. Forcing Cam to prematurely take the ball down and run is a much more inviting proposition than allowing him to develop his in-game quarterbacking skills, and becoming a better QB. The Panthers have to know this, and have to focus on balancing the offense by developing Cam Newton the QB, vs Cam Newton the athlete, and find new ways for Cam to solve opposing defenses with increasing emphasis on his head and arm, because Cam the well-rounded QB is a much more complex and difficult weapon to defend. A running Newton is an invitation to whack him, and potentially get him off his game, or off the field. That's the simplest, most brutally effective, way to beat the Panthers, and it's perfectly reasonable within the rules and accepted strategy of the game. The Panthers simply cannot afford to allow that to happen.

I like Mike Goodson, and think he has it in him to develop into a starter-caliber NFL RB, but with Williams, Stewart and Newton, the Panthers didn't need that for 2012. So they moved him for an O-Lineman, and brought in multi-dimensional FB Mike Tolbert, as their new wrinkle. A guy who now gives them 3 unique specialized options in the running game, and especially in the Red Zone, which offers them another opportunity to lessen the punishment on their prize piece. I think Tolbert will affect the production of Newton, Stewart and Williams, but particularly in the Red Zone. I don't think he necessarily severely impacts the carries, receptions and yardage of Stewart and Williams, who will rack up massive amounts between the 20's, but he will affect Red Zone opportunities and TD's for everyone, simply to lessen the exposure of Newton to the debilitating punishment which, logically ought to be part of every game plan to defense him in 2012. I think TE Olsen will have an impact there as well.

I also think signing Tolbert was a forward-thinking move by the Panthers in preparation for the departure of Stewart next season, or possibly this one, if an injury riddled team comes calling. I imagine that might have been part of the 'sell' to bring Tolbert on board. Certainly many players weigh opportunity into their signing equation, but the other pieces are money, and the chance to win Championships. The Panthers offer a nice short and long term realization of all three elements.

It's too early for me to start projecting statistics, but I imagine Williams and Stewart will have remarkably identical seasons, and both will offer low end RB1 /high end RB2 upside, possibly limited by the number of Red Zone rushing TD's they generate, because of the presence of Tolbert and inclusion of Olsen. Newton's Red Zone touches, rushing opportunities and TD production will be limited by these pieces as well. I will rank both higher in yardage-based Leagues, because I think the offense can support two fantasy starter caliber RB's. Now that the Panthers know what they have in Newton, and so does everyone else, it absolutely behooves them to limit the amount of punishment Newton is exposed to in the running game, because without him on the field, they're a remarkably different, and much less imposing, offense.


Jonathan Stewart projections

RSHRSHYDRSHTDRECRECYDRECTD
Dave Larkin1758206342403
Message board consensus1688257464022