Panthers' Running Back Breakdown: Full Evaluation and Depth Chart Analysis

Stephen FenechCorrespondent IMay 21, 2013

NEW ORLEANS, LA - DECEMBER 30:  DeAngelo Williams #34 of the Carolina Panthers scores a touchdown as he runs past  Elbert Mack #44 of the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on December 30, 2012 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

The Carolina Panthers do not have a need at the running back position; they have a combination of veterans and young players on their roster. 

With Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams both signed to lucrative long-term deals, rookie GM David Gettleman has to decide if the team can afford both of them in the future. While both Stewart and Williams each took a pay cut for the upcoming season, both of them are still owed a significant amount of money moving forward. 

After finishing third in rushing in 2011, the Panthers slipped to ninth in 2012. Injuries to Ryan Kalil and Jordan Gross could be blamed as reasons for the regression, but both will be back next season.

Cam Newton led the Panthers in rushing last season, as the versatile quarterback is not shy about carrying the football in order to gain yards. That being said, Carolina's offense would be more formidable if an actual running back was the team's leading rusher. 

While Newton should look to burn opposing defenses with his legs when the right opportunity presents itself, the Panthers offense won't reach its' true potential until Cam develops from inside the pocket. 

For that to happen this season, Carolina will need to be effective when running the ball on first and second down. The Panthers will need their offensive line to develop as a formidable unit in order to pull the best performances out of their running backs. 

In his last offseason as general manager, Marty Hurney signed Mike Tolbert to a three-year contract. The move bewildered the media, as the Panthers did not have a need in their backfield. 

As it turned out, the Tolbert signing worked out. He was utilized effectively as a blocker and as a goal-line option. Since the Panthers use two-back sets on a regular basis, Tolbert will see the field often in the upcoming season. 

While he will not be a playmaker between the 20s, Tolbert will make a difference in red-zone situations. The Tolbert signing didn't make sense at the time, but the addition does make the Panthers offense more diverse and that's always a good thing. 

Tolbert is more of a fullback than a running back, but the seven rushing touchdowns that he compiled last season makes him a legitimate threat with the ball in his hands. 

Stewart and Williams will split most of the carries, as the two of them accounted for 226 carries and 1,073 yards in 2012. If both stay healthy, they should finish the season with a comparable amount of carries. They each bring something different to the table. 

Williams is more of a big play threat, as he has the speed and acceleration to break away once hitting the second level. On the other hand, Stewart has the elusiveness and burst to be a consistent option no matter the down or distance situation. 

The two complement each other, and when playing well they are arguably the best rushing duo in the league. 

The Panthers will enter the 2013 season with concerns in the secondary and at wide receiver, but they should not have to worry about the production from their starting running backs. 

At the onset of this year's draft, the thought of the Panthers investing a pick in a running back was unthinkable. 

With Williams, Stewart and Tolbert on the roster, Carolina clearly didn't need another ball carrier. 

Gettleman saw it different, as he selected Oregon product Kenjon Barner in the sixth round. While that pick could have been used on a cornerback or receiver, the odds of a sixth-round pick making an actual impact are long. 

Barner is a home-run threat, as the soon-to-be rookie ran for 1,767 yards and 21 touchdowns during his final season at Oregon. The Panthers will look to get Barner the ball in space, as his quickness and speed is lethal. 

Carolina is loaded at running back, which means there will be even more pressure on the offensive line to generate opportunities in the run game.