The Case for Jonathan Stewart
Over the past few seasons, there has been a running joke at 4for4 headquarters about my so-called “love for the Carolina running backs.” Editor-in-Chief Josh Moore passes up no opportunity to poke some fun about my affection for DeAngelo Williams or Jonathan Stewart whenever I’m in position to tout one of them.
The truth is I only liked the Carolina running game when Williams or Stewart was injured since the other guy suddenly had an open path to a major workload.
Here’s a look at how each player has fared over the past three seasons when the other has been sidelined:
|G||Rush||Yds||TD||Rec||Yds||TD||FP (Std)||FP (PPR)|
When extrapolated over a full season, these per game averages yield production in the high-end RB2 range in both standard and PPR formats. The Panthers cut Williams this offseason, so the RB1 job fully belongs to Stewart.
The team’s confidence in Stewart was boosted by his performance with Williams out of the lineup last season. The backfield was his for 10 games (including the postseason) and he posted 18.0 touches per game for 89 yards and 0.40 TD, which equates to 205 fantasy points in PPR formats, about what LeSean McCoy scored as the #12 RB in 2014. Here's a look at Stewart's 2014 game logs:
It helps that Stewart is pretty darn good. Since 2008, there are 21 running backs with at least 1,000 carries, and Stewart has the 5th-highest YPC (4.63) in that group. While he’s not a prolific pass catcher (130 catches in 90 games), his catch percentage is a solid 72.6%, which is better than both Arian Foster and Jamaal Charles.
Stewart just turned 28, and is still in his prime. The main concern is his injury history. He has missed 22 of a possible 112 games (19.6%). He has battled ankle and knee injuries in recent seasons, which is why his early ADP is sitting in the 4th round instead of the 2nd.
It’s also why the Panthers would like to limit his workload in 2015:
Coach Ron Rivera said on Wednesday at the NFL owners meeting the Panthers ideally would like to get about 15 carries from Jonathan Stewart and then 8-10 from another back.
That other back likely will be found in the NFL draft.
“The thing you’ve got to be careful about in this league is you can’t rely on one player at one position,’’ Rivera said during the NFC coaches breakfast. “Running back has definitely been proven that you’ve got to have a good two-back tandem.
“And that’s what we’re looking for. We’re looking for that complement to Jonathan.’’
These comments won’t really dissuade me from drafting Stewart. The number Rivera threw out (15) is close to what Stewart averaged (16.5) with Williams sidelined last season. If the Panthers follow through with this plan, it should serve to keep Stewart relatively fresh and healthy, which would obviously help his fantasy value in 2015.
Add Stewart to a growing list of intriguing running backs currently going in the 4th/5th rounds. (I'm mainly talking about Justin Forsett, Alfred Morris, Frank Gore, Joique Bell, Latavius Murray and C.J. Spiller, though I won't know what order I'd put them in until I go through our comprehensive preseason projections process after the draft.) Given his track record, Stewart's ADP (4.10) is likely to hold since there’s a subsection of fantasy owners who have written him off due to committee and/or injury concerns. Stewart is a good candidate for those planning to use a “wait on RB” strategy, or even as a RB2 for fantasy owners who plan to draft 1-2 receivers (or a tight end) in the first three rounds.
If he plays a full season, Stewart is likely to finish as a top 15 back.