By: John McGlynn (Twitter: @jfmcglynn)
Most running back loving guys like myself, are always looking for the castaway studs that fall between the cracks or are put out to pasture when the new guy comes to town. It’s like the movie Toy Story, when Woody was the main man and everyone’s favorite. Years of loyalty and security, without ever a doubt that your go to guy would be there for you. Then one day a newer, faster, better pass catching back shows up, a new guy, a buzz lightyear type of guy shows up, and everyone kicks Woody to the curb. Even Woodys Sheep herder girlfriend gets all worked up over the new sheriff in town. But in the end, we all know how those stories end. Your hero shows up and saves the day.
Since 2008, Jonathan Stewart has been part of the Carolina Panthers game plan. Coming out of Oregon, Stewart was picked in the first round, the thirteenth pick overall, because he is a five foot ten inch bowling ball, that runs a 4.48 forty yard dash, and hits the hole like a ton of bricks. The Panthers have been a run first team with a big, strong, crybaby, selfish running quarterback that loves to self promote himself and vulture touchdowns from his workhorse backs. Those days are gone. There will be a new system implemented in Carolina this year, but the system seems to one that will mostly benefit the early down and goal line running back. That guy will be the soon to be fantasy hero Jonathan Stewart.
The spotlight has been almost burned a hole through Cam Newton in Carolina, there is no doubt about that. Cam has been dabbing and Clark Kent-ing all over the place since his rookie year, throwing his body all over the place. Cam loves the deep ball, and Cam loves scrambling for ten seconds and finding a wide open Greg Olsen, who puts on more miles in one sixty minute game, then most tight ends rack up in a year. The problem that has risen with this style of play that has brought Cam Newton to MVP status, is that Cam gets hit a lot. Teams are blitzing on most obvious passing plays and even game planning to hit him well after the ball is released. Teams are making sure that if Cam takes off running, at least three or four players will be there to greet him before he has the opportunity to slide.
This is A) throwing Cam off of his game, and B) causing injuries and concussion symptoms. That is a major party foul when a franchise quarterback in in the conversation. The only way to keep a quarterback healthy is to get the ball out of his hands as soon as possible, and as often as possible. This brings in a trifecta of scenarios.
Hand the ball off on early downs. This scenario may give Jonathan Stewart a chance to go from a career average thirteen carries per game, to around sixteen to twenty carries per game. Remember, we are trying to keep the dabbing QB healthy, so some of those carries will be short yardage and of course, the carries that makes everyone’s spidey senses tingle, the red zone goal line touches. This is a possibility for Stewart to touch the ball around two hundred and sixty to two hundred and eighty times this year. This is only around forty more carries than previous years Stewart has compiled.
Draft a couple of PPR machines to become the new quicker safety valve, faster than waiting for Olsen to run four routes every play before getting open guys. Those safety valve, check down blitz beater, keep your QB healthy players were drafted this year in the form of Christian McCaffrey in round one, and Curtis Samuel in round two. This will be a totally new concept for the Panthers because Stewart is only averaging one catch per game throughout his career. This may take a while to catch on, and this might be the downfall of Cam Newton, exposing him as just another flashy QB that can’t make all of the throws a professional quarterback is supposed to be able to. This scenario does absolutely nothing for Stewart’s value.
The play action passing plays. The Panthers have already proclaimed that they are completely ready to line up with Stewart and McCaffery in the backfield and motion McCaffery out to slot or flanker. This may give Stewart a chance to catch a few coverage sack avoiding, broken play screen passes, but I would not put any fantasy value in that. Stewart is a very good pass blocker, but Cam Newton loves the deep ball. This scenario might be something you see a lot more than people expect. After all, this is a passing league, and Carolina did not draft McCaffery at number eight overall to sit on the sidelines and watch Stewart run. They also know that Cam needs to get his confidence and swagger back. No other way to do that, than to throw long flashy scoring bombs. It will also take some trickery to get fat man Kelvin Benjamin and the rest of the underwhelming Carolina receivers open.
There will be many scenarios that could possibly make this a career year for Stewart. The likelihood of RB one elite status is probably a stretch of the imagination, and as the early rankings roll in, Stewart has landed as low as #248 (which I laughed at), and as high as #64. Look for me to overpay for Stewart and try to grab him in the sixth round. I’m being optimistic and see a possibility for nine hundred yards and twelve touchdowns. I’m loving the overlooked Stewart this year, and you should too.