Carolina Panthers fans and fantasy football owners everywhere have to be devastated by the news that the team placed running back Jonathan Stewart on the PUP list. As a result, Stewart will miss at least the first six weeks of the regular season, as Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reports:
After going to see a foot specialist today, #Panthers RB Jonathan Stewart (ankle) will start the season on PUP list, I'm told. Out 6 games.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) August 27, 2013
Fortunately, as the team's official Twitter account points out, Carolina has a bye in Week 4, so the best-case scenario is that Stewart only misses the first five games of the season:
Correction: RB Jonathan Stewart could miss just 5 games since Panthers have Week 4 bye. Eligible to return Week 7.— Carolina Panthers (@Panthers) August 27, 2013
This setback in Stewart's recovery will force the Panthers to lean more heavily on the duo of DeAngelo Williams and Kenjon Barner, as well as bruising fullback Mike Tolbert.
With plenty of mouths to feed in the rushing attack—including a mobile quarterback in Cam Newton—the fantasy impact and the breakdown of how much each player will tote the rock is the talk of the football world.
DeAngelo Williams Is the Hottest Name
For the first five regular-season games at least, fantasy owners should expect Carolina to rush the ball with Williams at least 70 percent of the time. Not only does he know the offensive sets, but his combination of speed and power makes him the best all-round back on the roster.
The problem for Williams and fantasy players who think Stewart's loss will result in a large boom in productivity is that this is still the same running back that has fallen off dramatically over the last two years.
While the 210-yard rushing performance in Week 17 last year will cloud owners' judgment as they look to trade for or draft the Carolina starter, the veteran has been abysmal in the preseason. After amassing only 51 yards on 21 attempts (2.43 yards per carry), Williams has not proven convincingly that he deserves the starting job.
That could leave the door open for the emergence of third-string running back Kenjon Barner.
Season Prediction: 180 carries for 875 yards and five touchdowns; 15 receptions for 90 yards and zero touchdowns.
Add Kenjon Barner to Your Watch List
Barner is an interesting name to monitor now in fantasy leagues. He may not be a priority on draft day, but he's certainly worthy of flier consideration in light of this recent news. Despite the lack of hype around him, add Barner to your team’s Watch List and keep an eye on his developing role on offense.
If Williams continues to carry his struggles into the regular season, look for Barner’s pass-catching abilities to earn him more playing time.
While he likely will never be an elite runner between the tackles, the Oregon Ducks star showed how explosive he can be in open space. Stewart’s injury opens up the chance for Barner to play more often, but it could be Williams’ lack of success that truly lets him shine.
Season Prediction: 90 carries for 350 yards and two touchdowns; 27 receptions for 280 yards and two touchdowns.
Don't Count Out Mike Tolbert
The ultimate X-factor in Carolina right now is Mike Tolbert.
The fullback is not a fantasy option yet, but with neither Williams nor Barner that talented in short-yardage situations, Tolbert will become the default goal-line back.
If the Panthers frequently find themselves in short-yardage situations, Tolbert will be a huge part of what the Panthers do in the rushing attack this season. His possible success would result in fewer touches for the other two running backs.
Tolbert should be added to your Watch List as well.
Season Prediction: 110 carries for 430 yards and nine touchdowns; 15 receptions for 125 yards and zero touchdowns.