Carolina Panthers 2012 Offseason Preview: Running Backs

Tyler Horner@BR_TylerHornerCorrespondent IIJanuary 15, 2012

TAMPA, FL - DECEMBER 4:  Running backs Jonathan Stewart #28 and DeAngelo Williams #34 of the Carolina Panthers celebrate a touchdown run against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers December 4, 2011 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

Last week, I began my series of offseason previews for the Panthers with an evaluation of the team's quarterback situation. This week, we move on to the running backs and assess whether or not the front office will need to make an acquisition to upgrade the team's backfield. 

Here's what the Panthers currently have on the roster: 

DeAngelo Williams, No. 34

Jonathan Stewart, No. 28

Josh Vaughan, No. 32

Mike Goodson, No. 33

Starter(s): DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart

The Panthers' two starting running backs helped them to develop the league's most efficient running game, which truly proved to ease the transition for quarterback Cam Newton. 

Both backs averaged 5.4 yards per carry and while Williams received more carries and is the more explosive of the two backs, Stewart proved to be a versatile weapon to keep the Panthers' offense running smoothly. 

His added production in the passing game made the offense that much more dynamic—he caught nearly 80 percent of his 61 targets and finished the season with over 400 yards receiving. 

Both backs are also solid on blitz pickups and have great footwork, giving the offense the flexibility to use either in third down situations. Rarely do you see their level of unselfish dedication to the blocking game in backs that are also primary ball carriers. 

Williams and Stewart also have the power to be effective in short yardage situations, but with the 6'5 Cam Newton, the Panthers often chose to use his size to finish off their drives at the goal line. 

At 24, Stewart is four years younger than his counter part, but they've served to preserve each other's careers with the way the team's shared the running load. When you consider that and that they each have the talent to be featured backs, this position is placed near the bottom of the list of concerns. 

Priority: Extremely Low

Backup(s): Josh Vaughan, Mike Goodson

Goodson is extremely talented and could be the backup once Williams has retired, but the coaching staff lost faith in the young running back after his fumbling problems persisted. 

He's defined as a scat back who was very productive when paired with the pounding back in Stewart back in 2010, when Williams was out nearly the entire season. 

Vaughan is not as talented as Goodson, but he runs hard and makes few mistakes. He's not going to be a starter, but he could serve as an emergency backup if needed. 

The team would do well to add a project player to prepare for Williams' eventual departure, but it's not a primary concern when you consider the problems on the other side of the ball. 

Priority: Medium