Carolina Panthers’ running backs have been a source of production, and surely some frustration, for fantasy football owners through the years. 2012 was no different, with DeAngelo Williams (737 rushing yards, seven total touchdowns), Jonathan Stewart (336 rushing yards and 157 receiving yards, two total touchdowns) and Mike Tolbert (seven rushing touchdowns) all being worthy of a roster spot depending on the size and scoring rules of your league.
Williams, Stewart and Tolbert are all back in the mix for Carolina this year, creating a difficult situation on a weekly basis for any fantasy owner that drafts one of them. Rookie Kenjon Barner is also a potential option, but he is unlikely to make a significant impact this season.
All in all, is one Panthers’ running back a better fantasy option than the others for 2013? Let’s take a closer look.
Stewart was limited to nine games last season by injuries to his ankle and toe, and he set a career-low in yards per carry (3.6). He had surgery on both ankles this offseason, which has kept him out of Carolina’s offseason work and leaves his status for the start of training camp in doubt right now. Stewart is the Panthers’ running back with the most fantasy potential when he is healthy, but betting on him playing all 16 games is a risky proposition.
Without Week 17 against the New Orleans Saints, when he had 21 carries for 210 yards and two touchdowns, Williams’ 2012 season would have looked very dismal. He had 10 games with less than 50 rushing yards, and seven games with 10 or fewer carries as well. After some offseason speculation, and the fact he is now 30 years old, Williams will be back with the Panthers this season after agreeing to a restructured contract.
Tolbert showed a nose for the end zone during his time with the San Diego Chargers (19 rushing touchdowns in 2010 and 2011 combined), and that continued in his first season in Carolina. Five of his seven rushing touchdowns last season came over the final three games, and he had nearly as many receptions (27) as Stewart and Williams did combined (30).
Fantasy owners can’t be blamed for avoiding any Panthers’ running back on draft day, if only to avoid the weekly headache of predicting how the workload will be split.
Stewart and Williams are clearly the top two fantasy options here, with Stewart carrying more value in PPR leagues if he is ready to go for Week 1. If there is any doubt about Stewart’s health during the preseason, Williams would get a slight boost in value and can be bumped up a few spots on cheat sheets. In any case, both Stewart and Williams are nothing more than a RB3 in standard leagues.
Tolbert has some value in touchdown-heavy leagues, but the inherent unpredictability of those opportunities creates some downside. If Stewart or Williams were sidelined by a significant injury at some point, Tolbert could become a popular waiver wire addition in standard leagues.
Barner is worth stashing in deep dynasty leagues, but it would take multiple injuries for him to see a lot of opportunites this season.
The upside pick in this group is still Stewart, and as long as he is healthy he should be the first Panthers’ running back drafted in the majority of fantasy leagues. But if I were drafting today I think Williams is the better choice, since he does not carry any health concerns into training camp.
Brad Berreman is a contributing writer at Rant Sports.com. Follow him on Twitter @bradberreman24.