Still recovering from a toe injury sustained in Week 2, Carolina Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart will see limited (if any) time playing time for the team's Thursday night game against the New York Giants, according to CBS Sports' Dave Richard.
— Dave Richard (@daverichard) September 20, 2012
For most Stewart owners, his absence will come as no surprise. The Carolina star is just four days removed his team's last game, a 35-27 victory over the New Orleans Saints, and toe injuries are notoriously difficult for running backs.
Nonetheless, what's most troubling for fantasy owners is what this injury means for Stewart going forward.
First and foremost, he has gone from a must-start option in most leagues to someone who is barely worth owning. Even when he comes back full-time, he's still someone who is best stashed on the bench; even if you were just using him in the flex spot.
Injured toes just don't go away overnight. That means that Stewart will either have to sit and rest until he's 100 percent, or simply play injured. The 25-year-old back historically has played (and done so effectively) when hurt, but there is so much running talent on this team that it wouldn't make sense to rush him.
DeAngelo Williams and Mike Tolbert, both high-priced rushers in their own right, are more than capable of splitting duties while Stewart is on the mend.
Williams has two 1,000-yard seasons under his belt and looked strong against the Saints last week, rushing for 69 yards on 14 carries and a touchdown.
Tolbert, on the other hand, was brought in almost exclusively for this type of scenario. A big, bruising back, the 26-year-old became a dominant goal-line force the past two seasons with the San Diego Chargers.
Spelling for Ryan Mathews, Tolbert has scored 19 touchdowns over the past two years and is a skillful pass catcher out of the backfield.
If either one of these two runners break out while Stewart is healing, it could submarine his value immensely.
Considering Stewart was the 24th running back taken in ESPN standard drafts (ahead of guys like Tampa Bay Buccaneers rookie Doug Martin), this could be a devastating blow for his owners. It's likely that those who drafted Stewart emphasized other positions in the early rounds and hoped to strike gold with the Panthers youngster.
This injury makes a breakout season almost impossible.
If there is another option on your roster when Stewart returns to full action, keep the Carolina back on your bench. It's a quick fall from "must start" to "must sit," but Stewart's early-season injuries have put him on that path.