Carolina Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart has been a bust for fantasy football owners over the past two NFL seasons, but the powerful ball-carrier showed signs he may be ready for a bounce-back campaign after his preseason performance against the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday night.
Stewart powered his way to 26 yards and two touchdowns on four carries in the first half against the Chiefs.
According to the Panthers' depth chart, Stewart is No. 2 behind the fleet-footed DeAngelo Williams. Touchdowns may be at a premium for backs that don't figure into the passing game all that much, which makes Stewart a unique case thanks to his distinct size advantage over Williams and ability to punch the ball into the end zone in short-yardage situations.
However, fantasy football owners shouldn't flock to Stewart after this strong showing against the Chiefs. As the Charlotte Observer's Jonathan Jones notes, his preseason numbers may not carry over into the regular season, if recent history is any indication:
Jonathan Stewart with two TDs tonight. In regular season, he hasn't scored 2 TDs in a game since 11/15/09— Jonathan Jones (@jjones9) August 18, 2014
He's only only scored one touchdown on the ground over the past two injury-riddled seasons. He needs to stay healthy if he is to become an impact fantasy player, but this early preseason performance shows signs the coaches haven't forgotten about the rumbling, powerful back who scored 20 rushing touchdowns during his first two seasons in the league.
Stewart's average draft position is a paltry 150.7, per ESPN.com. His continued ability to make good on plays in the red zone bodes well for his draft stock. He could be a strong backup option in both 10- and 12-player leagues.
However, he does face a bit of a unique challenge in that quarterback Cam Network is a fine ball-carrier himself, and it could be the signal-caller, not Williams, who steals those crucial touchdown fantasy points from Stewart as the season moves along. Last year, Newton scored six touchdowns on the ground.
That being said, Newton is the team's quarterback of the future, and the Panthers brass may not want to risk him getting an injury by running with the ball too often. This could be the opportunity Stewart needs to make himself a viable spot-starter for fantasy football owners once again.