Stewart suffered his injury in the Panthers’ third preseason game and his availability for the season opener was up in the air. However, head coach Ron Rivera has his hopes up that his running back will be on the field this Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Sports Illustrated reports the following:
Although he was held out of practice, Rivera says Stewart "moved around very nicely" during a private workout Monday. Rivera says that's a "very encouraging sign" and he's hopeful Stewart will return to practice Wednesday when the team continues this week's game preparation in Bradenton, Fla.
Stewart has long been a hit or miss fantasy player due to the situation in the Carolina backfield. The four-year veteran has split carries with DeAngelo Williams throughout his career and trying to predict which player will have the better week when both are healthy drives fantasy owners crazy.
With Mike Tolbert now in the backfield as well, and Cam Newton likely to receive his share of carries, rushing opportunities will be spread across several players. This will make Stewart a risky play this season, but in Week 1, he has an excellent chance to produce points worthy of a starting spot.
The latest injury news suggests that he will not miss any time due to his ankle, and Tampa Bay is a great matchup. The Bucs allowed an average of 26.66 points to running backs each week in a standard scoring system, according NFL.com. This was the most of any team in the league.
In the first division battle against the Buccaneers last season, Stewart received 14 carries and recorded 80 yards and a touchdown. In the next game against Tampa, he only received seven carries, but gained 88 yards. He did not get in the end zone on a hand off, but did catch an 11-yard touchdown pass.
In both games, Carolina scored three rushing touchdowns as a team. The Bucs were terrible against the run last season. They have a few young and talented players who could progress across the season, but this will be a soft matchup for Stewart and the Carolina running backs as the year is just starting.
There is always a risk when putting Stewart or Williams—and now Tolbert—in the lineup. It is impossible to predict which running back will have the best day.
However, the Bucs offer the best opportunity for all of the Panthers’ rushers to put up fantastic numbers. If you own Stewart and are searching your bench for a flex player, do not be afraid to put him in your lineup this week.