Carolina Running Backs: Is Stewart Ready For Primetime?

Brett BayleyContributor IJune 27, 2010

CHARLOTTE, NC - DECEMBER 20:  Jonathan Stewart #28 of the Carolina Panthers scores a touchdown past Cedric Griffin #23 of the Minnesota Vikings at Bank of America Stadium on December 20, 2009 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

RBBC Review: Carolina Panthers

The Carolina Panthers sets the example for the rest of the league after when it comes to running back by committee. 

Many teams gear up for seasons by adding depth at running back and getting two or three runners ready for playing time. On paper this works out well, as injuries tend to take a toll on running backs throughout the league every year, and a second or third option lets the team just keep on rolling. 

But this isn’t always the case. Often times the switching back and forth doesn’t allow for players to get in a groove and limits potential breakouts by limiting playing time between multiple players.

DeAngelo Williams, Carolina’s first round pick in 2006, has been carrying most of the load since 2008.  Although he only stands 5’9’’, he plays with a combo of speed and power that many runners envy.  He has an ability to switch directions that is matched by few in the league. 

Between 2008 and 2009, Williams averaged a solid 1,300 yards per season while averaging over five yards per carry in each season.  Through the two seasons in which he has started, he has only missed three games—a credit to his durability.

During those same two seasons that Williams started, there was another running back making his presence known.  After selecting Jonathan Stewart with the 13th pick in 2008, he has been a force to be reckoned with behind Williams. 

He filled in for DeAngelo in goal line situations as well as when Williams was tired, and he racked up almost 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns in his rookie season.  He followed that performance with over 1,100 yards and another 10 touchdowns in 2009, while averaging over five yards per carry.

Both runners have been succeeding over the last few years, but what about the Panthers?  After utilizing both backs in 2008 and rolling to a 12-4 record, the team backtracked in 2009 to 8-8. 

Neither number suggests a need for rebuilding, but after letting go of their starting quarterback (Jake Delhomme) and two of their best defensive players in the last few years (Kris Jenkins and Julius Peppers), it’s hard to see the Panthers making any kind of run in the next few years.

The team likes young quarterback Matt Moore, and looks to be giving him a chance to succeed.  He connected well with Steve Smith, the team's best receiving threat, last year, but now that Smith will be sidelined with a broken arm until the start of the season, it doesn’t look like the combo will have gained much chemistry through the one week of OTA’s Smith was able to attend before breaking his arm. 

The Panthers also selected one of the top QBs in the draft this year in Jimmy Clausen, but everyone knows developing a QB takes some time.

So what does the team do?  The team could utilize both runners this year in an attempt to take some pressure off the young quarterbacks, but trying to hide a quarterback's abilities behind a running game always becomes exposed during the playoffs (just ask Panther fans how Delhomme worked out). 

With Thomas Davis, the team's best linebacker and probably the best defensive player, out for the year once again, the team has way too many holes to allow for the team's two best players to play the same position.

DeAngelo Williams is in the final year of his contract, and he has played himself into a position for a huge new deal at the end of the year.  Jonathan Stewart is in the third year of his rookie deal, and still has the ’10-’11 season and two more seasons left on his deal.  It seems to me that with the contract situation playing a factor at the end of the season, one back needs to move. 

With Williams already an elite back, I would imagine the Panthers will use this season to get Stewart ready for a full time load while looking to move DeAngelo. 

That being said, I would consider Williams the much riskier fantasy pick, as I see his numbers dropping a bit while I don’t think Stewart will see any decline in numbers, and ultimately Stewart might see an increased workload.