Touted by many scouts as the most complete running back entering the 2008 NFL draft, Jonathan Stewart is proving to be worthy of the 13th overall selection by the Carolina Panthers. As part of the best running back tandem in the NFL, he has accumulated 2,155 total yards and scored 21 touchdowns in his first two seasons in the NFL.
In 2009, Stewart rushed for 1,133 yards and 10 touchdowns, boasting an impressive 5.1 yards per rush. In the passing game, he contributed 18 receptions for 139 yards and a touchdown. He finished the year strong while teammate DeAngelo Williams was sidelined with an ankle injury. Stewart touched the ball 73 times over the final three games, racking up 470 total yards and scoring four touchdowns.
At 5’ 10” and 235 pounds, Stewart is an explosive runner who is adept at running between the tackles and has the strength to punish defenders and move the pile forward. He also possesses great vision, and uses his deceptive speed and acceleration to break plays to the outside, many times resulting in a long gain. In fact, Stewart had touchdown runs of 67, 45, and 26 yards last season.
The biggest risk involving Stewart is his propensity for nagging injuries. While playing for the University of Oregon, he suffered lingering ankle problems all three years, and then had to battle a turf toe injury in his final year.
That toe injury has remained with him into the NFL and has apparently led to his current Achilles’ tendon problems which caused him to miss off-season workouts and practice time in 2009, ultimately requiring surgery at the conclusion of the season.
The bottom line, however, is that Stewart has been tough enough to play well despite these injuries. He still became the second leading rusher in Oregon history, and has played in all 32 games in his NFL career with the Panthers.
His injury status will require constant monitoring, but if he continues to be productive and battle through these nagging injuries. His production can make up for the aggravation he causes fantasy owners.
The outlook for 2010 should be similar to what we have seen the previous two years in Carolina. The Panthers will remain a run-first offense, committed to utilizing two running backs in a heavy rotation.
They have averaged over 150 yards rushing per game in each of the past two seasons, ranking third in the league each year. Last year, Carolina became the first team in NFL history to have two running backs eclipse 1,100 yards rushing in the same season.
If Stewart were to take over as the primary running back for the Panthers, he has the skills to be considered a first round fantasy draft pick in any scoring format. However, barring an injury to DeAngelo Williams, this is not going to happen in the immediate future.
It is likely Stewart will continue to see roughly 40 percent of the touches and perhaps half of the red zone opportunities in 2010. Again, this should be enough opportunity for Stewart to surpass 1,000 yards of total offense, and also reach double-digit touchdowns for a third consecutive year.
He will be a solid No. 2 fantasy running back, worth drafting at the beginning-to-middle of the third round.
In PPR leagues, he should be bumped down several spots since the offensive scheme of the Panthers does not utilize their running backs very much in the passing game. He becomes a low-end No. 2 to a high-end No. 3 fantasy running back. In this format, start thinking about him as your draft approaches the fifth-sixth round.
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