Jonathan Stewart 2015 Fantasy Outlook?

Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

For many of you reading this, seeing Jonathan Stewart and Fantasy Football in the same sentence must have brought Knowshon Moreno caliber tears to your eyes, and honestly I don't blame you. I too have been burned by the intriguing prospect that is J-Stew. In fact, I spent the majority of the 2012 season in a Ray "laces out" Finkle meltdown, so no need to remind me about the 28-year-old running back's injury-plagued career thus far. That coupled with being the number two back in a split backfield has not made Stewart a highly valued fantasy option over the years. It's no surprise that there are scoffers, scoffing at the very thought of drafting Stewart in this years fantasy drafts. Many would say that Carolina could use some "angels in the backfield" to keep Stewart from getting injured. Others mockingly jest that he should find a time machine to resurrect his career. Well, strap on your angel wings Christopher Lloyd because where we’re going we don’t need roads. Terrible movie pun’s aside, to all you still scoffing: 2015 might be a good year to draft Jonathan Stewart.

This offseason the Panthers chose not to resign their all-time leading rusher DeAngelo Williams leaving Stewart as the feature back lining up behind QB Cam Newton. Over the last five games of the 2014 season, Stewart gave us a glimpse of what he could do as the lone healthy back for the Panthers rushing for 486 yards on 91 carries. He also averaged 5.1 yards per carry in the last six games of the season including the postseason.

Every mock draft I have done has Stewart going at or around RB20, which usually lands the former Oregon Duck in the fifth round. That position spell’s great value for anyone looking to cash in on a back that has the 5th highest yards per carry amongst backs with at least 1,000 carries since 2008. A significant reason for Stewart’s impressive YPC numbers is his ability to gain yards after contact. In 2014, he managed a hard fought 2.6 yards after contact per attempt.

Last year Stewart played in 13 games with 175 carries, and he managed to turn those attempts into 809 yards with over half of those yards coming in the last five games of the season. The last time he received anywhere close to that number of carries in a season was in 2010 with 178 carries. Even though it is due to injuries he still does not have nearly the amount of miles on his tires that you would expect from an eight-year veteran in the NFL.

Now, all that glitters is not necessarily gold, and while there is some tremendous upside to a Jonathan Stewart pick up in the fifth round, there is also some downside (injuries aside). The Carolina Panthers are a team with HUGE red zone potential with two 6’5" wideout’s and a pro bowl tight end. When you add in the fact that Jonathan Stewart will be competing for red zone carries with "super-cam", and the human bowling ball that is Mike Tolbert touchdowns might be slim pickings. It just depends on how defenses play the Panthers in the red zone this year, and who’s number is called when the time comes.

Given Stewarts history with injuries his draft stock will remain quiet for an RB of his caliber. If you consider the fact that Stewart will be the number one back on a team that relies heavily on the run, the value is certainly there on carries alone. The risk of Stewart going down is mitigated by how late in the draft he should still be available. While the risk is relatively low, the reward could potentially be a huge boost to your fantasy roster IF he stays healthy. Jonathan Stewart has always shared the Carolina backfield. If the last five games of 2014 are any indication of what he looks like as the number one guy on the depth chart, then he is certainly worth your consideration for RB2 or flex.

Drafter Beware: If you do decide to draft Stewart make sure you pick up his handcuff (Cameron Artis-Payne) in case the prone to injury Stewart goes down. As it sits right now, Fozzy Whitaker is number two on the depth chart, but Payne is getting drafted first in mock drafts. Fozzy is typically going undrafted, so you shouldn’t have an issue collecting him on the waiver wire should the need arise.