The Carolina Panthers had a good idea of what they were getting when they drafted rookie Jonathan Stewart in the first round of the NFL draft. Bad toe or not, they were having visions of Stephen Davis-like smash-mouth football.
You know the type: teeth rattling, cleat gnashing, 3rd-and-1-and-a-pick-up-five type of football. Stewart has been as good as advertised and then some.
What was not expected was the sudden explosion that has been DeAngelo Williams. Williams is playing like a man that knows his job is on the line. What has evolved is an interesting pseudo-competition at the running back position. Who is winning?
The Carolina Panthers are winning.
Stewart is a bull of a player at the running-back position, standing only 5'10" but weighing in at a husky 235 pounds. What truly makes Stewart special is his ability to both juke and run over the second and third lines of a defense. When Stewart turns on the jets, it is game over for most everyone else on the field. Speed is certainly not in short supply.
So far in 2008, Stewart has played second fiddle to DeAngelo Williams in both carries, and starts. Williams has started every game, but they exchange series regularly and occasionally share a series when down and distance require as much.
Williams has 15 more carries than Stewart, but the tide seems to be turning towards a 50/50 role.
One area that Stewart is not playing second fiddle to Williams is in the area of rushing touchdowns. Stewart is finding the end zone with regularity on the ground, with five rushing touchdowns already in his rookie season.
Williams has two, but also has two touchdowns through the air for a total of four. Both have shown a nose for the end zone.
That is good news for the Carolina Panthers' offense, and it shows. The Panthers have enjoyed a revitalization of the passing game. Certainly Jake Delhomme is a huge part of that resurgence, but so too are Williams and Stewart.
The Panthers have not ever had a rushing combo as consistent and dangerous as these guys.
What offense features two running backs more different than one another, yet both still perform at a 4.0 yard per carry rate apiece? There have been a few over the years, and the Cowboys have a strong version with Marion Barber and Felix Jones this season.
It is a rare set of toys for John Fox to play with indeed.
While trying to determine who is winning the running-back competition in Carolina, one must consider an unpopular answer. It is a real life, bona fide, no kidding...tie. Neither running back is winning the competition outright.
They both, along with their Carolina Panther teammates, are all winning just about the same...and that is just fine by them.