MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- First, the news. Jonathan Stewart said not to worry about the Achilles' tendon injury that has bothered him during the preseason. He will be on the field for Week 1.
That's the important part of the story because Stewart played well in a secondary role last year behind starter DeAngelo Williams. And this year, he's striving for more.
"I want to do better than last year," Stewart said in an interview with CBSSports.com following Carolina's second preseason game at Miami.
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We expect a lot from Stewart this year, and the prediction is Stewart will finish as a better Fantasy option than Williams. You should still draft Williams ahead of Stewart, but by the end of the season, the production will be close with Stewart scoring more touchdowns.
Stewart was part of an impressive rookie running back class in 2008, which featured Matt Forte, Steve Slaton, Chris Johnson and Kevin Smith. Stewart was fifth among carries for rookies with 183 for 835 yards, but he tied with Tim Hightower for most touchdowns by a rookie with 10. In a standard-scoring league, Stewart was the No. 24 running back.
Williams was the No. 1 running back with 274 carries for 1,518 yards and 18 touchdowns, and he also added 22 catches for 121 yards and two touchdowns. Stewart only had eight catches for 47 yards.
The question with Williams is can he duplicate that performance? When asked, he said individual accomplishments don't concern him, and his No. 1 goal is helping the Panthers win a Super Bowl.
"It's not even a challenge to me," Williams said. "If we're winning games, and I'm not putting up the numbers I put last year, I don't care. It's not about statistics with me. It's about winning. At the end of the game, it's about the team that put the most numbers on the board."
Williams is the consummate teammate. He roots for Stewart, and vice-versa.
In the locker room, the two joke around and enjoy teasing each other. There's no animosity over who will get more carries or be the star running back. That's good for the Panthers but bad for Fantasy owners.
We want someone to step forward and say, "Give me the ball." In Carolina, that's not going to happen.
"Me and DeAngelo walk around patting each other on the back," Stewart said. "It's a good bond we have going on. Not only as a tandem, but we have a good friendship."
The way we see it working out this year is Williams finishing with more rushing yards and Stewart scoring more touchdowns. That's the role that suits each best with Stewart the bigger back at 5-foot-10, 235 pounds compared to the more agile Williams at 5-foot-9, 217 pounds.
Williams will still find the end zone, but he will likely see a decline this season from his 2008 production. There were 22 other running backs since 1965 who scored at least 20 total touchdowns in a single season, and the average decline of the 21 who played the following year (Jim Brown retired after scoring 21 touchdowns in 1965) was at least seven touchdowns.
Only four of those running backs scored more touchdowns the following season (Shaun Alexander in 2004-05, Priest Holmes in 2002-03, Emmitt Smith in 1994-95 and LaDainian Tomlinson in 2005-06). Additionally, four others got hurt the following year (Alexander in 2005-06, Holmes in 2003-04, Terrell Davis in 1993-94 and Terry Allen in 1996-97).
The safe prediction with Williams is 10 touchdowns with similar yards as last year. Stewart will likely get close to 1,000 yards rushing and could score at least 15 touchdowns. In the end, Stewart will have more Fantasy value.
But make no mistake, both running backs will shine. The Panthers have one of the best offensive lines in the NFL and will continue to pound the football. And even if Williams isn't the best running back in Carolina this year, he's still going to be successful. So far, at least one person disagrees with this prediction.
"DeAngelo is a heck of a running back," Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme said. "We always thought he was talented. We drafted Stewy last year in the first round, but we gave DeAngelo a true chance last year. He showed what he can do. He picked up where he finished last year, and we expect big things out of him. It was a great progression for him, and I'm looking forward for even more."
It's hard to expect Williams to do even more than last year, but we'll see what happens when the real games start. Stewart said he will be there for Week 1, and I'm counting on him to have a big season.
|Player||Year||Total TDs|| Next year's |
|* - significantly injured|
|** - retired|
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