In my years of playing in dynasty leagues, I’ve come to realize one very important thing – this game will absolutely rip your guts out and leave you throwing up in the middle of the night if you let it. One day you think you’re as smart as Ken Jennings from Jeopardy! and the next you look as stupid as Charlie Sheen. Simply put, there are certain players who will break your heart, steal your soul and leave you shaking your head in disgust.
Enter Jonathan Stewart.
When Stewart was drafted as the 13th pick in the first round of the 2008 NFL Draft by the Carolina Panthers, dynasty league owners rejoiced, thinking they had the next big thing. After all, “The Daily Show” had just ripped apart the PAC-10 to the tune of 1,700 yards and 11 touchdowns as a Junior at the University of Oregon. He had the look of a bona fide featured back and total stud at the next level. He was a “can’t miss” in dynasty leagues and went second overall to Darren McFadden in virtually every dynasty rookie draft that Summer.
Stewart’s career thus far is defined by “what could have been.” It seems every time he’s on the cusp of stardom, something happens to derail him.
In 2008, many thought Stewart would overtake DeAngelo Williams and become the lead back for the Panthers. Instead, Williams blew up for a career high 1,515 yards and 18 touchdowns. This created a frustrating time share that produced not two very good, but not great fantasy plays all the way through the 2010 season.
I’m feeling hot and dizzy.
Last year’s offseason was supposed to be Stewart’s coming out party. After all, the Broncos and Dolphins were hot after Williams as a free agent and there was virtually no chance of him returning to Carolina. It just made no sense to spend a ton of money on Williams when you had a guy like Stewart ready to be the featured back.
My stomach is starting to rumble.
After Williams was re-signed last year, many Stewart owners wanted to bail. After all, it had been three seasons of waiting already. Those who stuck with Stewart hoped that having a rookie quarterback in Cam Newton would lead to the Panthers running the ball a ton and leaving Stewart with some solid goal line work. Instead, Newton proved to be Panthers best option near the goal line as he rushed for a ridiculous 14 scores of his own.
Where’s the toilet?
That brings us to the present offseason. After outplaying Williams last year, most owners were hoping to see Stewart work into the lion’s share of the carries this season. It wasn’t a prime situation and far from what owners had been wanting to see, but it was good enough for this year, especially considering Stewart will be entering free agency at the end of the season. So, of course, the Panthers respond accordingly by signing Mike Tolbert.
Oh, there it is, just in time to miss the bathroom floor.
As I said before, this game will rip you to pieces if you let it. Free agency in the NFL is so unpredictable and it can completely and totally wreak havoc on your team – it’s single handedly wiped out Stewart’s potential for dynasty greatness a few times. That brings us to the present day and the one of the hottest debates on our forum and in fantasy. What should you do if you own Stewart?
Let’s start with the case to sell.
Stewart has had a history of nagging injuries and many say that’s one reason to stay far away from him. It seems like every season sees him missing practices and listed constantly as “questionable.” While he rarely misses time on the field, it has to be of concern.
There are also no guarantees of Stewart ever getting that starting job everyone so badly wants him to have. The NFL is quickly going to committee backfields everywhere and expecting him to be the lead horse for a team in Carolina or elsewhere is beginning to look like a lot to ask for.
While it’s true that Stewart is a free agent, it’s hard to say what will happen next year. While it’s entirely possible that DeAngelo Williams could be cut, the Panthers still have Mike Goodson (if he’s re-signed next year) and Mike Tolbert in the mix. Add the running of Newton into the mix and that’s just a mess. Even if he was to leave, there’s no guarantee he finds the money or situation he likes. Just look at what guys like Michael Bush are signing for – Bush is making less than some kickers out there and he was one of the best running backs on the market.
Now, the case to buy.
When you watch Stewart, there’s no doubt he’s one of the most talented running backs in football. His blend of power and speed rivals that of a healthy Adrian Peterson. Teams would salivate to have a player with his dynamic running and pass catching ability on their roster. His career yards per carry average from last year was a ridiculous 5.4 – good for third in the league among backs with at least 140 carries.
Even with Tolbert in town, Stewart remains the most productive back in Carolina. In fact, Tolbert was introduced as a fullback when he signed, so there’s no guarantee that Stewart’s workload will be diminished greatly this year anyway. He as a solid RB2 in ppr leagues last year and that’s really his floor in relation to his value.
Believe it or not, Stewart just turned 25 yesterday – that’s still very young and he’ll enter free agency with less than 1,000 career carries in his five seasons. When you consider some running backs are getting close to that many carries in just three years, that’s significant. He’s far from washed up and you could make the case his career has been preserved based on his modest workload.
As far as free agency goes, Stewart will have choices to make next year and there will be no shortage of suitors. What kind of numbers could he put up playing with his old coach in Denver? How about as the lead back in Atlanta to replace Michael Turner? There are a ton of scenarios that could play out where Stewart could finally make good on his top three potential. Do you want to give up on that now? There’s a simple rule of thumb out there that says you never sell low and that’s exactly what you could be doing with Stewart. At best, you’re likely “selling even.” Do you want another owner to have that chance of an explosion with virtually no risk?
The case to buy or sell on Stewart is going to rage on for the next season. For me, he’s still squarely on the buy list. The payoff could be enormous and what’s another year to wait at this point. At worst, Stewart will find himself in another committee situation next year, meaning he’s retained his current value. If you move him right now, there’s significantly more risk.
I mean, really, it’s not like something else could actually happen to decrease his value, right.
I’m feeling queasy again…
Ken is on Twitter at DLF_KenK