The Carolina Panthers are most likely going to start the 2015 -2016 NFL season with Jonathan Stewart as their starting running back. Jonathan Stewart earned this role during his strong play in the last five games of the year. Stewart ran for 486 yards and was second only to DeMarco Murray. Because of Jonathan Stewart's resurgence and the Panthers lack of salary cap space, the Panthers decided to release their all-time leading rusher DeAngelo Williams this offseason. This further solidified that Stewart will be the starting running back for the Panthers this coming season.
Jonathan Stewart is fully capable of handling the workload if he stays healthy.
He has the body of a full back, and the speed of a sprinter. He is hard to bring down and will fight for extra yards. Even though Stewart is a tank in the trenches, his body isn't made of steel, and has some rust. He is an injury-riddled running back and that worries Panther Nation.
So, how do we keep Jonathan Stewart healthy next season? I think Carolina Panthers Head Coach Ron Rivera has an answer. At the NFL owners' meetings Rivera talked about holding Stewart to only 15 carries per game. This sounds like a good Plan A, and this could help keep Stewart healthy throughout the season. I think this decision hurts the Panthers offense though. We saw what Jonathan Stewart was capable of last season, and he needs to be on the field. Also the lack of talent in the backfield could create a bigger problem for the Panthers.
If Jonathan Stewart gets hurt, what is Plan B? As of right now the Carolina Panthers have the following running backs on their roster.
RB Fozzy Whittaker – Fozzy Whittaker only carried the ball 32 times for the Panthers last season and ran for 145 rushing yards. He averaged 4.5 yards per carry and scored one rushing touchdown. But it didn't matter that Fozzy didn't do much in the regular season, because he showed his true self against the Arizona Cardinals in the playoffs. He broke several ankles after catching a ball out of the backfield on his way to a 39 yard touchdown. He is a quick/elusive runner and has good vision.
Experience: 3rd Season
Career Stats: 60 Attempts for 224 Rushing Yards 1 Touchdown
RB Jordan Todman – Jordan Todman is a downhill runner, and plays bigger than his scatback size body. He has good vision, and can explode through holes with his 4.4 speed. The Panthers might be planning to use Todman, like the New Orleans Saints used Darren Sproles. However he struggles to run routes and has trouble blocking.
Experience: 2nd Season
Career Stats: 111 Attempts for 450 Rushing Yards 3 Touchdowns
FB Mike Tolbert – Mike Tolbert was a part of the three headed dragon for the Carolina Panthers. He came over from San Diego and was immediately effective. He has been called “The Bowling Ball”, “The Tank”, and even “Yogi”. Tolbert is a utility player that can line up at full back, running back or even at the tight end position. He is a downhill runner with quick feet, and has good hands.
Experience: 8th Season
Career Stats: 533 Attempts for 2,023 Rushing Yards 32 Touchdowns
RB Darrin Reaves – Darrin Reaves is a running back with good balance, and a low center of gravity. He ran a 4.54 40 yard dash and uses his quickness to find the holes at the line of scrimmage. Reaves has lots of potential and could provide a solid change of pace out of the backfield when Stewart needs a break.
Experience: 2nd Season
Career Stats: 31 Attempts for 78 Rushing Yards
The Carolina Panthers might be in trouble if Jonathan Stewart gets hurt and their tail backs have to share the load. On a positive note, there might also be chance that one of the tail backs could have a break out year with Stewart only getting 15 carries per game.
After further review, I think that the second best option at running back is in the NFL Draft. There are a lot of prospects with lots of potential at the tail back position. There is Todd Gurley, Melvin Gordon, Jay Ajayi, and even Tevin Coleman. To learn more about Todd Gurley, check out this article written by Carolina Cat Chronicles Ken Dye, titled “Does Gettleman have Todd Gurley in the Crosshairs?”
What is the best Plan B option for the Carolina Panthers?
By, Justin Raymond
Follow Me On Twitter @JayRay19