Why Jonathan Stewart’s Golf Game Affects Your Fantasy Football Team
Jonathan Stewart was scheduled to play in an upcoming charity golf event, but had to withdraw because of his ankle issues. Unfortunately for fantasy nuts, I'm not talking about the host of The Daily Show.
We've hit the middle of July, so what would typically be mundane offseason news is becoming more important. When a football player can’t even manage to play 18 holes just a few weeks before the NFL preseason, it starts to become at least somewhat of a concern.
Stewart, who turned 26 in March, is entering his sixth season with the Panthers. His partner in crime, DeAngelo Williams, turned 30 over the off-season, making it seem obvious that the Panthers would rely more on the younger of the two backs in 2013. Stewart’s ankles, unfortunately, are probably going to force him to miss at least some of Panthers camp, making any potential fantasy football owner nervous.
Is It Time to Rely on DeAngelo Williams…Again?
The 2008 season feels like decades ago. And if you take a look at some of the top fantasy scorers from that season, it will really feel like decades ago. Thomas Jones was the fifth best fantasy back, Steve Slaton the sixth, and Kurt Warner, Donovan McNabb, Matt Cassel, David Garrard and Chad Pennington each cracked the top 10 at the quarterback position. Don't forget about Tyler Thigpen, either, who finished as a QB1 in 12-team leagues.
DeAngelo Williams, a fantasy football newbie at the time, was the best fake pigskin runner that season. He topped 1,500 rushing yards and scored an impressive 18 touchdowns, surely helping the unknowledgeable fantasy players win multiple league championships. He hasn’t gotten close to those numbers since, partially because of teammate Jonathan Stewart’s presence in the backfield. But more importantly, DeAngelo’s rushing efficiency that season was sixth best by any running back over the past 10 years. That’s simply not easy to replicate.
With J-Stew feeling gimpy, it looks like many are aboard the "DeAngelo Williams Matters to Fantasy Football Again" train. And no, really, I'm not joking.
The Numbers Don’t Really Like Panther Running Backs
In 2012, neither DeAngelo Williams nor Jonathan Stewart ranked very well in terms of rushing efficiency. Williams was surprisingly better, but that could easily have to do with Stewart playing through injury (no surprise there) throughout the season.
Let’s not be fooled about the Panthers, because their rushing adjusted net expected points – a measure that helps determine how well an offense’s rushing attack impacts team scoring - ranked fourth in the NFL last season. As Alex Hampl pointed out last week, this metric actually adjusts for opposition, making it more reliable than raw stats. The Panthers didn’t finish the season fourth in rushing, but their rushing game ranked fourth in effectiveness. Cam Newton, however, was the reason for that. Not the mediocre running backs.
Would DeAngelo Williams Assume Stewart’s Probable Role?
If Stewart does indeed miss time, there’s no reason to think that DeAngelo Williams would - or could - simply take on Stewart’s role. We're currently projecting a healthier Stewart to have roughly 211 rush attempts next season, while DeAngelo is expected to receive 83. If, for instance, Stewart were to miss a significant portion of the season, DeAngelo could be hypothetically asked to carry the ball close to 20 times per game.
I don’t see that happening. Not only is he 30-years old and poorly-scored efficiency-wise, Williams didn’t make a significant impact in the games where he did carry the load in 2012. He had 17 attempts against Atlanta last season – a team that ranked seventh worst in adjusted defensive rushing NEP - and mustered up just 56 yards on the ground. Though he managed a crazy 210-yard Week 17 performance, let’s not overstate the success. It was against the miserable Saints, one of the worst defenses (third worst in adjusted defensive rushing NEP) in the NFL.
Oh, and it happened Week 17 between two teams completely out of the playoff race. Feel free to put stock into that...if you'd rather not get close to making your fantasy league's playoffs.
Expectations For DeAngelo Williams if Jonathan Stewart Misses Time
It may sound like I'm being harsh on the old running back, but it's tough to get excited about a runner who hasn't carried the load since the H1N1 virus was in the news. No Panther running back should be high on your draft list, as Cam Newton is the real reason Charlotte's team can run the ball. To make matters worse, the red zone offense in Carolina can be fairly unpredictable, causing a giant, shared headache among Panther running back owners. And they have a new offensive coordinator. And they just drafted a running back, Kenjon Barner, in April. And I'm pretty sure they purposely make the running back position as confusing as possible for fantasy owners every single year.
Stewart currently ranks as our 26th best running back, placing him in a flex spot on most fantasy rosters. Much of that has to do with the fact that he was hopeful to receive 200-plus carries this season in an underrated offense. But now, because of his injury and ambiguous timetable for return, it’s probably safe to push him down even further in your ranks.
If Stewart does miss time, don’t automatically dub DeAngelo Williams a running back starter in fake football. Not only will it be likely that Stewart makes some sort of return, but the Panthers effectiveness on the ground hasn’t come from their running backs in recent years. It comes from Superman himself, Cam Newton.