Stewart has done yeoman's work for the Panthers since being selected 13th overall in 2008, but his tenure as the team's starting RB appears to be drawing to a close after Carolina nabbed Christian McCaffrey eighth overall in this year's draft. It's easy to see why the front office might have been looking for an upgrade. Stewart has missed three games due to injury in each of the last three seasons and seen his yards per carry decline every year during that stretch. His 18 rushing TDs over those three seasons is still impressive, and Stewart should still see plenty of action in short-yardage situations. McCaffrey's younger, healthier legs and elite pass-catching ability make him an every-down option, though, and a timeshare might be the best Stewart can hope for if the rookie is as good as advertised in camp.
We’re trained not to expect a full season from Stewart, as he’s made it to 16 full games just once in six years. Nonetheless, last year’s return was pretty good. He graded out No. 15 in basic-scoring points per game, and No. 16 in aggregate fantasy points. He even made his first Pro Bowl appearance. Stewart is unlikely to ever be a goal-line monster given the presence of Cam Newton, but his rushing TD total was his best since 2009. But forget Stewart as a pass-catcher; he was the only top-16 back who finished with fewer than 100 receiving yards. It’s a league filled with backfield platoons in most cities, and Stewart is another player who has to accept that fact of life. Carolina’s romp through the regular season was wonderful for Stewart’s game flow last year — he never had less than 10 carries in any start, and at one point he logged 20 or more attempts in eight straight games. Opportunity is a huge part of the fantasy equation at running back, but it’s also difficult to see Carolina cruising that easily in 2016. No matter how good a team looks on paper, 15-1 seasons usually come with a regression tax. And when the Panthers are playing catch-up, Stewart usually isn’t on the field. Add it all up and we see a handy player, but someone without major upside.
This time last year, rumors swirled that Stewart was finally at full health after two injury-plagued campaigns. While those rumors didn't completely pan out — Stewart missed three games early in the season with a knee injury and battled minor ailments the rest of the year — when he was on the field he looked rejuvenated, posting his highest rushing total since 2009 and highest YPC since 2011. Stewart's vision, balance and agility complement his power, making him difficult to bring down in the open field, and his 56 missed or broken tackles last season ranked among the NFL's leaders. That's an especially impressive feat when you consider his workload compared to workhorses such as Eddie Lacy, who managed 49 in 87 more touches. Stewart also has good hands as a receiver, though the Panthers haven't thrown to him much in recent years. With DeAngelo Williams now in Pittsburgh and Carolina not signing a big-name free agent or using a high draft pick on a running back, the starting job is all Stewart's entering this season. Despite last year's success, however, he still has a poor track record when it comes to staying healthy, and the added snaps that come with having little competition might end up being more curse than blessing.
Once a speedy and powerful runner, Stewart has seen his skills sapped by ankle and knee injuries. As a result, he's played just 15 games over the last two seasons, averaging under 3.7 YPC in that span. A 10-touchdown rusher in each of his first two seasons in the league, Stewart's totaled seven rushing scores in the last four seasons combined, including precisely zero last year.
The good news is that Stewart enters 2014 healthy after missing the end of the regular season as well as the playoffs last year; of course, it seems like every time he takes the ball, he runs a high risk of major injury. Nonetheless, the Panthers restructured Stewart's massive contract over the offseason, allowing them to continue using him in a committee approach with DeAngelo Williams while quarterback Cam Newton and Mike Tolbert dominate the goal-line situations. Unfortunately, even if Stewart can stay healthy, he won't yield much fantasy value with all that competition for touches.
Since entering the league as a 2008 first-round pick, Stewart's upside has been limited by a timeshare with DeAngelo Williams. The addition of Cam Newton the last two years only made things worse, as the quarterback has scored 22 rushing touchdowns over that span.
To make matters worse, Stewart will start the season on PUP list and miss Carolina's first five games. Stewart also missed a career-high seven games last season due to an ankle injury that required arthroscopic surgery in January. While Stewart is still just 26, his injury-status, ineffectiveness in 2012 (career-low 3.6 YPC) and Carolina's deep backfield rotation (including Williams, Mike Tolbert and rookie speedster Kenjon Barner), make it unlikely he sees a big workload. When healthy, the 5-10, 235-pound Stewart is a power runner with good straight-ahead speed, and he's also a reliable pass-catcher out of the backfield.
Once again working in a backfield by committee, Stewart impressed when given the chance, finishing with 5.4 YPC. Moreover, after entering last season with a total of 34 receptions in his career, he racked up 47 catches for 413 yards in 2011. A whopping 33.1 percent of his carries went for first downs, which led the NFL by a wide margin, and counting both rushing and receiving, Stewart forced 52 missed tackles, which ranked fifth among all backs despite his limited workload. Stewart is powerful, but he’s also explosive for someone who’s 235 pounds, and he’ll be playing for a new contract at the end of this season. If Stewart somehow approached 300 rushing attempts, there’s little doubt he’d be a top-five fantasy back. Unfortunately, with DeAngelo Williams around (and Cam Newton there to steal goal-line carries), that’s unlikely to happen.
After recording 20 rushing scores his first two years in the league, Stewart reached the end zone just twice last season. He also finished with a career-low 770 rushing yards despite DeAngelo Williams missing the final 10 games with an injury. A concussion, Mike Goodson’s emergence and Carolina turning into the worst team in football were all contributing factors to Stewart’s worst season as a pro. Stewart also lost four fumbles, which is glaringly bad considering his workload, but that had never been a big problem before. Stewart still managed to break 30 tackles last season, which tied for the 11th most in the NFL, and every back ahead of him played significantly more snaps except for LeGarrette Blount. Last year aside, it’s clear Stewart is one of the more talented running backs in football, with legitimate tackle-breaking ability and a nose for the end zone. His fantasy value comes down to what happens to DeAngelo Williams. With Williams returning to Carolina thanks to a new five-year, $43 million contract, which included $21 million guaranteed, Stewart's value will depend on Williams' health throughout the season.
Stewart doesn’t start for the Panthers, and
the team’s timeshare isn’t going away unless an
injury occurs, but that doesn’t mean he’s to be
ignored. He totaled 1,272 yards (5.1 YPC) with
11 touchdowns last season while getting just
221 carries. Over the final three games, when
starter DeAngelo Williams was out of action,
Stewart ran for 440 yards and scored four
touchdowns, which reveals two things: his overall
numbers would have looked far less impressive
had Williams stayed healthy, and also
Stewart would immediately become a top-three
(if not the No. 1) fantasy back should Williams
suffer a serious injury in 2010. While Stewart
may be one of the five most talented backs in
the NFL, with tremendous tackle-breaking ability
combined with good speed, Williams is
equally talented and deserving of half the
carries. Offseason surgery is expected to fix
the lingering foot injury that has plagued Stewart his first
two years as a pro, so it’s exciting to think of
what he could do if finally pain-free. Despite
limited work, his 11 carries for 20-plus yards
were tied for third-most in the NFL, and he
somehow managed the sixth-most tackles
broken in the league. He’s a powerful back who
remains the favorite to get goal-line carries this season. A backfield by committee is
far from ideal, but the Panthers called 525 run
plays last year — the second-most in the NFL —
so Stewart will be plenty involved.
Stewart ran for 10 touchdowns during his rookie season, and while 836 rushing yards don’t jump out at you, considering he never received 20 carries in a single game the production was impressive. He wasn’t very active as a receiver, but his 4.5 YPC was strong, and that number actually jumped to 5.6 over the final seven games of the season. The improvement makes sense considering he was still recovering from offseason toe surgery in the beginning of the year.
At 5-10, 235, Stewart is powerful yet possesses excellent speed. Tacklers seem to bounce off him, and he’s already one of the best goal-line backs in the league, converting an NFL-best 78 percent (7-of-9) of his attempts last season. There isn’t a more talented “backup” running back in football. DeAngelo Williams is coming off a fantastic season and will no doubt remain the starter, but Stewart will get plenty of carries, and Carolina did have 504 rushing attempts last year.
Running behind a devastating offensive line, Stewart can be plenty productive even in a timeshare, and it’s likely he receives the bulk of the all-important goal-line work. It would be nice if he contributed more in the passing game, but Stewart did catch five balls for 67 yards over the final three games last year if you include the postseason, giving some reason for optimism. If Williams were to suffer a serious injury, Stewart would immediately become a top-three fantasy option.
At press time, Stewart had not participated in minicamp or OTAs due to an ankle issue, and the Panthers were not forthcoming about the details. Chances are he’ll be fine for the start of training camp, but be sure to check on his status this summer before drafting him.
Despite playing through a painful toe injury
that limited his ability to cut, Stewart ran for
1,722 yards with 11 touchdowns on 6.2 YPC
last year in Oregon. He underwent toe surgery
in early March, giving him ample time for
recovery, so he should be ready for training
At 5-11, 230, Stewart is big and powerful,
but he also possesses good speed, running his
40 in 4.46 seconds. He's athletic enough to
make defenders miss, and his receiving ability
was a big reason why the Panthers made him
the second running back taken in the draft.
However, injuries plagued Stewart throughout
his collegiate career, so durability is a concern.
He's shown toughness, though, and a willingness
to play through his maladies. A tacklebreaker
who finishes his runs, Stewart immediately
becomes the team's best option at the
goal line, as DeAngelo Williams has struggled
mightily in short-yardage situations throughout
While Williams averaged a solid 4.6 YPC
the last two years, he lacks the coaching staff's
trust, and he's a subpar blocker, so Stewart
should be on the field during the majority of
passing downs and short-yardage situations.
If Williams could muster just 144 carries with
only a mediocre DeShaun Foster (3.5 YPC)
competing for touches, his workload figures
only to decrease with Stewart aboard. With a
healthy Jake Delhomme, an improved receiving
corps and the addition of Jeff Otah to the
line, Carolina's offense should be much improved.
Coach John Fox has a run-first philosophy,
so there's quite a bit of potential here.
The Panthers haven't had a 1,000-yard rusher
since Stephen Davis in 2003, but Stewart could change that in 2008.