I’ve noticed that fantasy RB rankings have Jonathan Stewart rated somewhere around thirty, so putting him in my Top 20 makes me look a bit strange.
There are plenty of reasons to think I’m strange for doing this too. QB Jake Delhomme is coming off Tommy John surgery, a procedure that only two NFL QBs have ever returned from. It’s a huge risk considering the only backups are Matt Moore (who looked barely adequate last year) and untested former college star Brett Basanez. Basanez is on my sleeper list this season, but you don’t want to risk a Top 20 RB pick on that.
The offensive line is also a concern, as every single position on the line has a new starter including first round draft pick Jeff Otah. The rebuild of the offensive line is obviously key to Stewart’s success and – let’s face it – it doesn’t look great right now.
So why am I high on Jonathan Stewart? Simply because of the huge upside the guy brings. The Panthers are moving to a run-heavy offensive plan and Stewart is the lynchpin. DeAngelo Williams will provide a nice change of pace, but Stewart will the man. I expect he'll get 20-25 carries and as long as that's the case, I think he’s going to consistently put up solid stats.
The Panthers also have a nice WR corps this season. Everybody knows Steve Smith, but the addition of Muhsin Muhammad and DJ Hackett means the quarterback (whoever that turns out to be) will have a nice set of targets. Opposing defenses will have to respect the receivers enough that they can’t target the running game every single play.
I realize this justification sounds a bit flimsy, and I argued with myself over whether or not to put him into Tier 4. In the end, I felt Stewart has huge potential and when you get to the running backs rated 15-20, you’re taking a risk anyway. Every once in a while, you need to take a home-run swing. I think Stewart could be that season-changing RB2 to explodes into RB1 status.
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