Spotlight: Jonathan Stewart

posted by Jeff Haseley on Jul 29th


Jeff Haseley's thoughts

The Panthers boast one of the best rushing tandems in the league thanks to the talent, skill and ability of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. Stewart was the second RB drafted in the ultra-impressive 2008 RB draft class that includes Chris Johnson, Matt Forte, Ray Rice, Felix Jones, Jamaal Charles, Rashard Mendenhall, Tim Hightower, Steve Slaton, Kevin Smith, Darren McFadden and Justin Forsett. Nine RBs from the 08 class have rushed for 1,000+ yards or scored 10 rushing TDs in just two years of service. For Stewart to be the second RB selected amongst such esteemed company, speaks volumes of what he truly is capable of as a RB at the highest level.

1a & 1b
In Carolina, DeAngelo Williams is the team's primary RB, however Stewart has shown that very little is lost when he enters the game. It has widely been publicized that Stewart would not only be a starter for other teams, but he would also likely be an elite RB with Top 5 fantasy results. More teams are making the switch to a RBBC approach. The reason behind the recent boon that is sweeping through the league is that it does more good than harm to have two RBs carrying the load. It saves mileage on lead backs, but it also provides a change of pace that keeps defenses guessing. The Panthers and John Fox have perfected this approach with Williams and Stewart, who also go by the moniker "Double Trouble", for obvious reasons.

Tale of the Tape - Williams vs. Stewart - 2008-2009. Williams slightly edges Stewart overall, but Stewart has a narrow edge in the red zone. If you're wondering why Carolina has leaned towards Williams over Stewart as the 1a back, perhaps this is why.

YPC
Williams 5.3
Stewart 4.8

Rushing TDs
Williams 25
Stewart 20

Carries per Rushing TD
Williams 19.6
Stewart 20.1
NFL Avg 32.5

YPC on first down
Williams 5.2
Stewart 4.0

YPC downs 2-4
Stewart 5.7
Williams 5.5

First half YPC
Williams 5.4
Stewart 4.6

Second half YPC
Williams 5.2
Stewart 5.1

Inside the five - carries/rushing TDs
Stewart 26/10
Williams 22/10

Inside the ten - carries/rushing TDs
Stewart 40/14
Williams 33/12

Inside the twenty - carries/rushing TDs
Williams 64/18
Stewart 71/15

DeAngelo Williams gets the nod ahead of Stewart as the Panthers 1a RB. The above stats provide a glimpse as to why. The big question is - Is Stewart a viable fantasy starter, despite playing the 1b role? The answer lies on the success of the Panthers in general. If the team wins, he produces. If they lose, he tends to struggle. He had six games in 2009 where he averaged 5.0 YPC or higher. Carolina won five of those six games. Conversely, Williams had seven games of 5.0 YPC or higher in 2009. The Panthers lost five of those games. Below are more splits when comparing stats in wins and losses.

2009 - Jonathan Stewart wins vs. losses

W/L Games RSH YD YPC TD FP/Gm
Losses 8 71 255 3.6 0 4.4
Wins 8 150 878 5.9 10 19.8

Interestingly enough, DeAngelo Williams produces slightly more in losses compared to wins.

2009 - DeAngelo Williams wins vs. losses

W/L Games RSH YD YPC TD FP/Gm
Losses 8 120 662 5.5 5 14.3
Wins 5 96 455 4.7 2 12.9

Why does Stewart struggle in losses? Perhaps the reason is because when the Panthers are trailing, they tend to pass, like most teams. Going further, they tend to win when their running game flourishes. They are a run-first team that relies heavily on the abilities of their two main horses. When they fail, the team struggles to recover with their passing game. When Williams struggles to make an impact, Stewart is brought in to mix things up. By this time, the team is likely trailing and the defense, knowing that the passing game won't save matters, focuses on stopping the run, which is now led by Stewart. Recovering from a deficit might be different in 2010 with Jake Delhomme out of the picture at QB, but the running game is still expected to reign supreme.

Here's where it gets interesting - Stewart tends to excel when the Panthers win, so I looked ahead at the 2010 Panthers schedule. Interestingly enough, Carolina has only two losses (CIN & PIT) in their last meetings with each opponent in 2010.

Stewart is not PPR friendly - In 32 games over the last two years, Stewart has 26 receptions or 0.8 per game. Unfortunately he is not one who benefits from the receiving game. On the other hand, DeAngelo Williams averaged 1.75 receptions per game in the same span.

Positives

  • In his first two years in the league, Jonathan Stewart managed to reach double-digit rushing TDs each year. His yards per carry numbers have also increased from 4.6 to 5.1.
  • Stewart's combination of size, speed and strength allows him to gain extra yards after contact. He is often seen going into a pile and emerging out of the other side for extra yards.
  • Carolina boasts one of the best run-blocking OL in the league. Despite several injuries to key members of the OL last season, Carolina managed to average 4.5 yards per rush in all but three games in 2009. The starting OL unit, when fully intact, averaged 4.7 yards per rush in 2009. All members of the starting unit are expected to be fully healthy for the start of 2010.
  • In his brief career, Stewart has reached 100+ yards in every game that he has rushed 20 times or more (3 games). When DeAngelo Williams was sidelined with an ankle/knee injury in week 13 last year, Stewart rose to the occasion and helped lead the team to victories over MIN, NYG and NO to end the season.

Negatives

  • As discussed prior, Stewart's success hinges heavily on the ability of the team's success. When the team is winning and is controlling the line of scrimmage, Stewart tends to excel. When that edge is lost, Stewart and the team struggle.
  • Inconsistency has plagued Stewart in his brief career. He can just as easily put up a 7-30-0 game vs. 16-90-2 game. He had six games of 5.0 FP or less in 2009. Incidentally, all six were losses.
  • DeAngelo Williams reigns supreme for the time being. Stewart may be a very good RB in his own right, but Williams is the team's primary back and first option to crack opposing defenses. Stewart's success in Williams' absence late last season may give him more chances to prove his worth in 2010, but make no mistake, the running game is very much led by DeAngelo.

Final thoughts

The Panthers live and die with the running game. Their success is what keeps Jonathan Stewart a viable fantasy option, despite being the team's 1b RB. Carolina flat-out does not lose games when the running game dominates. Stewart is favored more in the red zone than his counterpart, Williams, which allows him to put up decent TD numbers throughout the season (10 TDs in each of his first two years in the league). He is capable of putting up impressive numbers, especially when the team is winning. Carolina can switch gears to accommodate his bruising and relentless power attack style that wears defenses down for the kill. The inconsistency in his game is a direct correlation to the inconsistency the Panthers have as a team. Stewart is a good RB2 fantasy option, but he will disappoint from time to time, so don't expect good numbers every week from him. The team has a much easier schedule in 2010, which means a higher probability of victories. If the Panthers get off to a good start in the win column, Stewart will undoubtedly put up good numbers, possibly RB1 numbers. Anytime you can get that out of your RB2 is step in the right direction.


Quotations from the message board thread

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

go deep said:

Stewart is one of the top 3-4 most talented RB's in the league. You would be hard pressed to find a better combination of speed and power. Obviously DeAngelo Williams being in Carolina hinders his redraft value, but even with that, he is still a top 12 redraft RB.

Iwannabeacowboybaby! said:

Stewart is one of th guys who could win you a fantasy championship if things break right if you own him. If Williams wasn't around down the stretch of the fantasy season, this guy is capable of 150 and multiple Td's. He seems like a guy who's just waiting to have a real bust out season, but he also reminds me of a player who shows flashes of brilliance but alwas has that nagging injury that keeps him from reaching his full potential as a STUD back. I'm going to look at the glass half full for Johnathon Stewart this season.

J-Dawg said:

If this guy was the true RB1 on his team than he would be off the board in the middle of the 1st round in every dynasty draft going. Instead, he's an ultra-talented back playing second fiddle to an equally talented. I don't see J-Stew posting huge numbers as long as he's paired with D-Will and he will be more of a RB2 value with RB1 potential. If you draft him high I think you're going to be disappointed by the end of the season because of inconsistent performances.

amphibianbri said:

I really like Stewart this year.
1. Carolina D looks to be going downhill somewhat so you try to run the ball more to play conservative.
2. With injury histories, I'm thinking neither back takes the full role so a 6-40 D Will or maybe a 50-50 split will be in order here.
3. With D Will a free agent after seasons end, maybe the Panthers see what Stewart can do with a bigger role and maybe the carries go 60-40 the other way.
4. In auctions I have done, D Will is going for $15-$20 more than J Stew making him a huge value with that upside that he is one injury of D Will away from super stardom fantasy wise.

Grahamburn said:

The first thing that popped out at me about the 2009 season and the Carolina Panthers running game is the fact that other than the Minnesota game in week 15 (where DeAngelo was injured and shut down for the year), DeAngelo outrushed Stewart in every single contest. All of them. Every game in which both backs were healthy and on the field, DeAngelo led the team in rushing regardless of carry totals. Those of you touting Stewart expecting a 50/50 split should read that again.

That's very telling about how the Carolina coaching staff sees the running game when both backs are healthy. I realize that Stewart is an extremely talented player, but so is Williams. They're both going to get carries. The "if DeAngelo gets hurt Stewart is a beast argument" goes both ways. The point is that when they're healthy, Williams is clearly the lead back.

I've read several posts about how Stewart has earned more playing time with his late season performances showcasing his ability to carry the load. Well, the problem with that is how well DeAngelo has also played in the last two seasons. I can't see the Carolina coaching staff changing philosophies for 2010 because Stewart had some big games at the end of 2009.

The argument that Stewart was nicked up all season doesn't really hold water either. Why wouldn't the Panthers just shut him down at the end of the year like they did with DeAngelo? Stewart was able to play through the pain and carry the load to some big games. The coaching staff wasn't holding him back during the season because of injury while DeAngelo was in the lineup.

These big games for Stewart were in the fantasy playoffs late in the season where fantasy players have great, yet short, memories.

I really like DeAngelo in the 7-9 range in the first round of a redraft league. He's an extremely talented back, catches the ball well, the Panthers are a run first team with a great line, and they play a soft schedule.

Stewart's carries and big games seem inconsistent to me. Unless DeAngelo is injured it's difficult to count on him for consistent fantasy points. I'd be ecstatic with him as a RB3. He'll approach 1,000 yards and double digit TDs, but you'll never know when they're coming.


Jonathan Stewart projections

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