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In Defense of Jonathan Stewart

Stewart
Last July I participated in a start-up dynasty draft and wound up selecting Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart in the fifth round, with the 46th overall pick.  In a PPR league where we can start between two and four running backs, obtaining Stewart’s services for that price (he was the 15th ball carrier selected) seemed like a coup, especially considering his sterling 2011 campaign.  With a fat new contract and the promise of an increased workload, as well as potential improvement from sophomore quarterback Cam Newton, it seemed like the sky was the limit for the talented fifth year back.

Unfortunately, Stewart’s season never really got off the ground, as he injured his ankle during a preseason clash with the Jets.  This rendered him unable to participate in the remainder of training camp, causing him to miss the season opener against Tampa Bay.  The effects of his impairment lingered, as he failed to compete in the third game of the year as well, and frequented the injury report for weeks on end with the “questionable” label.

Stewart ultimately plodded through the season until a second ankle injury, later defined as the dreaded high ankle sprain, knocked him out for the final five games of the year.  He experienced career lows in every meaningful statistical category, finishing the season as the PPR RB50.  In the “what have you done for me lately” world of fantasy football, Stewart quickly became a non-entity, worthy of nothing save for derision from scorned owners.

I, for one, have heard enough.  Analogous to the old saying that a player can be “so underrated that he becomes overrated,” the vitriol towards Stewart has turned his once overinflated value into that of a dynasty bargain.  I still have faith in the oft-criticized Carolina ball carrier, and will provide the reasons why below.

The Essentials

Despite the fact it seems like we’ve been debating Stewart’s fantasy viability since the dawn of the dinosaurs, he only turned 26 years old this past March.  If you combine his age with his low career usage (817 carries and 98 receptions – 915 total touches), it’s not a stretch to believe Stewart could be a fantasy asset for the next five years.  Because of this, Stewart can still be viewed with a long-term approach in mind.

Coupling with the above paragraph is the type of freak athleticism befitting a former first round pick.  Despite entering the 2008 NFL Combine with a rocked-up 5’10”, 230 pound stature, Stewart nevertheless shamed his competition at the running back position.  His numbers in the 40-yard dash (4.46 seconds, 82nd percentile), bench press (28 reps, 96th percentile), broad jump (128 inches, 96th percentile) and vertical leap (36.5 inches, 76th percentile) still represent one of the best all-around showings by a ball carrier ever.

A Statistical Analysis

Year Games Attempts Yards YPC TD’s Rec Yards PPR Pts. PPT PPR Finish
2008 16 183 835 4.6 10 8 47 156.2 0.82 RB32
2009 16 221 1133 5.1 10 18 139 211.2 0.88 RB15
2010 14 178 770 4.3 2 8 103 113.3 0.61 RB44
2011 16 142 761 5.4 4 47 413 194.4 1.03 RB18
2012 9 93 336 3.6 1 17 157 78.3 0.71 RB50
Career 71 817 3835 4.7 27 98 859 753.4 0.82 RB23.8

*The entirety of this analysis utilizes standard WCOFF scoring

There are a few important things which can be gleaned from the table above.  The first is that despite an injury-prone label, Stewart only missed two games in his career before last season.  His injuries were of the fluke variety and he’s also undergone corrective procedures on both ankles this off-season.  His health won’t be a concern entering 2013.

Secondly, despite poor statistical output in 2012, Stewart’s career yards-per-carry (YPC) stands at a robust 4.7.  To put that into context, Adrian Peterson averages 5.0 YPC for his career, Chris Johnson sits at 4.7 YPC, Maurice Jones-Drew slides even lower at 4.6 YPC and Arian Foster is way down the list at 4.5 YPC.  Dynasty football is a perennial venture – one bad season shouldn’t burn a player’s reputation for life.

Finally, if you’ve read my recent articles you’ve seen me reference players’ efficiency quite a bit – we need to do the same for Stewart.  2012 was a down year, as was a 2010 campaign which saw Stewart foray into the end zone only once.  However, for his career, Stewart averages 0.82 PPR points per touch (PPT), which is a number reflective of a higher scoring fantasy ball carrier.

Efficiency Relative to the Elite

The following table breaks down how well Stewart has performed relative to the top 10 PPR running backs on a yearly basis:

Year Stewart PPT Top 10 RB PPR Pts. Top 10 RB Touches Top 10 RB PPT PPT Difference
2008 0.82 2804.7 3347 0.84 -2.40%
2009 0.88 2889.3 3314 0.87 1.10%
2010 0.61 2907.5 3214 0.9 -47.50%
2011 1.03 2765.9 3102 0.89 13.60%
2012 0.71 2771.3 3324 0.83 -16.90%
Average 0.82 2827.7 3260.2 0.87 -6.10%

Both 2009 and 2011 saw Stewart perform at a rate more efficient than that of the aggregated top 10 PPR ball carriers.  In fact, just two years ago Stewart averaged over 1.0 PPT, a feat which wasn’t replicated by any of the top 10 fantasy running backs.  To put that figure in perspective, even during his transcendent 2012 season, Adrian Peterson averaged “only” 0.90 PPT.

Also, during his excellent rookie season in 2008, Stewart was a mere 2.4% off the pace of the fantasy studs.  In three of his five years, Stewart has been a highly efficient running back – all told, despite poor performances in 2010 and 2012, Stewart’s efficiency is a mere 6.10% off the pace of fantasy’s elite.  If you then consider his efficiency since Carolina’s Cam Newton-centric offensive shift, the news gets even better.

The Cam Newton Effect

Despite common perception, Stewart has actually performed better since quarterback Cam Newton’s insertion into the starting lineup.  Compared to the top 10 PPR running backs, as well as his backfield mate DeAngelo Williams, Stewart’s two-year average is simply sublime.

Name PPR Pts. Since 2011 Touches Since 2011 PPT Diff.
J. Stewart 272.7 299 0.912
D. Williams 302.5 357 0.847 7.13%
Top 10 RB’s 5537.2 6426 0.861 5.59%

To reiterate this point one last time, Stewart’s 2012 season is not indicative of his skill level!  Despite Newton’s role as touchdown vulture (22 rushing scores over the past two seasons), Stewart has still sports a two-year average of 0.912 PPT, which is 7.13% better than Williams’ output, and 5.59% higher than the top 10 PPR ball carriers.  He’s hardly getting into the end zone, but his overall numbers have been better – why?

A Pronounced Increase in Passing Game Usage

During Stewart’s first three years in the league, he was on the receiving end of a lowly 34 passes.  Since 2011, that number has spiked.

Range Games Tgt. TPG Rec. RPG Rec. Yards YPG Fantasy Pts./Rec. PPG/Rec.
2008-2010 46 57 1.2 34 0.7 289 6.3 62.9 1.4
2011-2012 25 84 3.4 64 2.6 570 22.8 121 4.8
% Change 183% 271% 262% 243%

*Neglected receiving touchdowns, as Stewart only has four in his career

Since Newton began lining up under center, he’s looked in Stewart’s direction at an exponentially higher rate.  Consider the bottom row of the table – on a per-game basis, Stewart received a 183% increase in targets, a 271% increase in receptions and a 262% increase in receiving yards.  This resulted in an average of 4.8 points per game solely from the receiving game, a 243% increase on his early career statistics.

The Other Side

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the drawbacks surrounding Stewart’s situation.  First, his ankle issues in 2012 are concerning.  Due to his surgery, there are no guarantees he’ll be ready for the start of the 2013 training camp, which could once again lead to a full-blown running back by committee situation.

To that last point, since being drafted in 2008, Stewart hasn’t truly been utilized as a feature back.  2010 stands as his only season with more than 200 total touches, and for his career, Stewart only averages 12.9 touches per game.  Very few players can put up RB1-level numbers with that type of sparse usage.

Finally, it’s no longer reasonable to expect Stewart to function as the team’s goal-line back.  Newton’s rushing ability, combined with his size (6’5”, 245 pounds), makes him the optimal choice in scoring opportunities.  If Newton isn’t called upon, fullback Mike Tolbert is likely next in line.  Despite only being afforded 54 carries in 2012, Tolbert scored seven touchdowns, and is an efficient short-yardage specialist.  These pitfalls have led to a noticeable shift in Stewart’s value.

ADP Tracking

Despite not playing since late November, Stewart has nonetheless seen a precipitous drop in his average draft position.

Month ADP Round Positional Rank
January 54 5 RB20
February 69 6 RB23
March 70 6 RB24
April 66 6 RB25
May 73 7 RB29
June 82 7 RB30

This less-than-subtle shift has led to a drop-off of 28 spots, moving Stewart from a mid fifth round pick to a late seventh round selection.  Relative to the running back position, Stewart fell ten spots, from a low-end RB2 to a middle of the road RB3.  Recency bias and reactionary responses have now turned Stewart into a mid-round bargain.

Conclusion

Jonathan Stewart is inarguably one of dynasty’s biggest lightning rods.  Due to a combination of injury concerns, recent performance and a crowded backfield, his value has taken a big hit in the past few months.  In my opinion, none of this is warranted.

Even despite a mediocre 2012 season, Stewart still sports elite-level efficiency, and this number has only increased since Cam Newton won the starting quarterback job in 2011.  Relative to the top ten PPR running backs, as well as fellow Panther DeAngelo Williams, Stewart is churning out fantasy points at a higher rate.  Much of this is due to an increased involvement in the passing game, as Newton has looked to Stewart 3.4 times per game over the past two years.  At just 26 years of age, there’s no reason Stewart can’t continue this pace for up to five more years.

Stewart likely won’t handle a full load in 2013, but better times lie ahead.  Williams is 30 years old and isn’t guaranteed money beyond this year.  The Panthers selected another ball carrier, Kenjon Barner, in the sixth round of this year’s draft, but he projects as more of a special teams player and potential third down back.  Stewart could have the majority of snaps to himself as soon as 2014.

Because of this, as well as his recent drop in value, Stewart represents a great “buy” opportunity for forward thinking owners.  He’s proven the ability to function as a mid-level PPR RB2 with limited touches, but is currently going a full tier lower.  I expect him to bounce back in 2013, and potentially function as the Panthers’ lead back the following year.  2012 might have brought about some lean times for Stewart, but I believe his “Carolina Blues” are now a thing of the past.

Follow me on Twitter @EDH_27

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Eric Hardter

Eric Hardter

Senior Writer at Dynasty League Football
Eric is a Boston College chemistry grad school survivor with a minor in dynasty football, as well as the DLF Mailman and Podcast analyst.He prefers to utilize both statistics and sarcasm whenever possible, believes in process over results and thinks "Hot Takes" are the scourge of the fantasy landscape.

You can find his (typically strong and hopefully reasonable) opinions on Twitter at@EDH_27.
Eric Hardter

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28 Comments

28 Comments

  1. Tim Miller

    July 2, 2013 at 7:50 am

    Stewart was actually dropped to waivers in one of my dynasty leagues after our draft this year. I traded Chris Johnson away for a 2014 1st round pick and picked up Stewart off waivers. I have insane RB depth in the league, so hoping he bounces back. Nice article.

    • Eric Hardter

      July 2, 2013 at 9:18 am

      Thanks Tim. Without knowing your league settings, it’s amazing to me that someone outright dropped him. I still firmly believe that, when healthy, his floor is that of a PPR RB2.

    • Krcil

      July 2, 2013 at 1:33 pm

      That is what the frustration has done… Resulted to owners dropping players for no real reason but disappointment.

  2. Cy23

    July 2, 2013 at 9:29 am

    I love this article and have remained excited about him.

    It helped that I traded him off for a 1.01 and 1.03, then traded to get him back by giving up only a first.

    • Eric Hardter

      July 2, 2013 at 10:33 am

      Thanks Cy!

  3. WZA

    July 2, 2013 at 10:19 am

    I’m not buying it. I’d rather go after other guys. Time to move on. DLF has a serious JStew addiction…time for an intervention.

    • Eric Hardter

      July 2, 2013 at 10:35 am

      Just out of curiosity, what aren’t you buying? I’m not trying to sell you RB1-status, but given his point scoring ability despite limited touches, you could be receiving a rock solid RB2 for RB3 prices.

      • WZA

        July 2, 2013 at 10:51 am

        Don’t get me wrong. It’s a well written article with good stats and everything…well done.

        I’m just moving on from the JStew bandwagon. I’d rather take my chances on other developmental RBs. You’re correct, he hasn’t missed a lot of games, but he is always banged up and misses a lot of playing time within games. He has a chronic achillies issue that flares up every year. The guy doesn’t have the drive to be a starting RB, otherwise he would have left when he had the chance. Etc, etc etc.

        It’s just more of the same. Every offseason we are waiting for him to take the next step and it never happens.

    • Bill Latin

      July 2, 2013 at 10:39 am

      I disagree. I follow this site fairly closely. One of the things that impresses me most, especially in this article, is the statistical data supporting his case. It is absolutely fine if you disagree. However, the name of the game in dynasty is acquiring value. Value is everything. If all the moves you make add value to your squad you will be in contention every year. I am not, nor have I ever been a JStew fan. However, I see the value and will be inquiring in my leagues to see if I can get him on the cheap. Well written and articulated article. These are the types of articles that keep me coming back to this site.(It almost convinces me to become a premium member 🙂

      • chadtriumph

        July 2, 2013 at 10:54 am

        Agreed, Bill. I love these type of articles! Articles like these are why I decided to support the site and go premium.

        • Jeff Haverlack

          July 2, 2013 at 5:37 pm

          And a big thanks to you Chad for supporting us in that way. Much appreciated

      • Eric Hardter

        July 2, 2013 at 11:13 am

        Thanks Bill, I appreciate the compliment! I love using statistics in my pieces, and am a big fan of efficiency metrics. If you liked this piece, you’ll love the work on the Premium side!

      • jgaba2

        July 2, 2013 at 11:57 am

        wouldnt be worth picking up unless you use him on a bye week…and then who knows if he is healthy…also RBBC approach for the panthers combined with injuries …nothing more than a spot filler if you ask me

        • sixshooter

          July 2, 2013 at 4:05 pm

          Well you should not definitely go into the season counting on him to be a starter on your fantasy team that is for sure but as a bye week filler……not sure I have much better. I actually picked up Tolbert because of my lack of faith that Stewart can stay healthy and, at the same time, was hoping DWill would get traded before the deadline but who knows!

          Stewart definitely has the upside and should not be taken for granted as I tried to actually trade for the guy this offseason but knew it was not likely since his owner was shorthanded at RB depth!

          Either way…..I can’t blame neither those who support him nor those who question him! He most certainly is a risky player and one that I would not be afraid on taking the risk on……..for the right price!!!

  4. CptParlay

    July 2, 2013 at 11:00 am

    It’s interesting to read the conclusions of this article on Stewart and compare them to the conclusions in the article on Jennings. Both missed half of last year, and have similar injury histories. Both have declining metrics. Stewart is 3.5 years younger, but only Jennings has a sustained actual record of performance and he is considered done while Stewart is a floor RB2.

    Things that make you go hmmm…

    • Eric Hardter

      July 2, 2013 at 11:12 am

      Age is definitely a factor, in that Jennings will be turning 30 before the season starts.

      The bigger factor, which you declined to include despite the detail I went into in the Jennings piece, is the team change.

      Aaron Rodgers was the most efficient QB in the league last year, averaging 0.671 fantasy points per attempt (PPA). Ponder was the QB28, averaging 0.453 PPA. That’s a relative difference of 48%, but you shouldn’t need stats to tell you that. I said he’ll more than likely be the team’s most-targeted WR, but projecting Harvin-esque stats upon him is disingenuous.

      Stewart has clearly benefited from the 2011 scheme change, so this is apples and oranges to me.

  5. Kyle

    July 2, 2013 at 11:43 am

    J-Stew is a RB3 at best. He is an unreliable weekly start due to Tolbert, Williams, and Cam sharing the rushing TDs. Sure, he might have 80 yards rushing, 40 receiving and a TD in one week (and mind you, that would be a rarity), but the next week he could finish with 35 yards rushing and 20 receiving w/ 0 TDs.

    I would feel sick if I had to start J-Stew – even on a BYE week.

    Given his degenerative ankle issues and constant injuries coupled with the fact that he basically splits time w/ 3 other RBs, I don’t know how anybody could rationally support him.

  6. RV

    July 2, 2013 at 2:43 pm

    The disappearing act in games he starts is the worst. It’s hard to stat. You have to watch games. Even saying he started a game and finished doesn’t tell the whole story. He’ll miss half a game but its virtually impossible to stat. You can track it only if you’ve watched entire Panther games. Stay away far away. The stats lie when it comes to J Stew. Sorry for rambling hopefully my point gets across

  7. Scott Peak

    July 2, 2013 at 5:48 pm

    Nice article Eric. The numbers are interesting for sure. I think you definitely present a compelling case, and I appreciate you writing this article. It’s definitely controversial for sure. That said, I’ll be the part of DLF that doesn’t buy into Jonathan Stewart, so I’ll be the villain here, lol.

    I think a big reason why his owners are frustrated is his lack of consistency over several years. If you look at the chart above, Stewart finished RB32, RB 15, RB44, RB18 and RB50. Plus, in 2011, when he finished RB18, 45% of his receiving yards came in two games. If you take the other 14 games, Stewart averaged 2.3 receptions and 14 yards receiving per game. If you toss out those two outliers, his ranking drops. That’s the problem with Stewart, you never know when he will give you a good game. Then, he pops once, you put him in your lineup, and for the next 3-4 weeks he disappoints you. Then, you bench him, and he goes off again. This pattern has been constant since his best year in 2009. His rushing numbers have consistently dropped since 2009. His TD totals are poor, averaging 3.3 TDs per year since his best year in 2009, so his value in non-PPR leagues is below average. Plus, he is constantly hurt, and even though he has only missed two games before 2012, it always seems like owners have to check pre-game whether he is going to play or not. Add to that his situation, plus the coaching staff may get fired after this year, and I don’t want him. To me, there is a difference between a buy low and catching a falling knife. If you grab Jonathan Stewart, he might just burn a hole in your roster, and I’d rather take a chance elsewhere.

    Side-note: I have an article coming out very soon on high ankle/lateral ankle sprains as part of Dynasty Doctor, a question posed by a user regarding Stewart. It should be out in the coming days.

  8. TradeHappy

    July 2, 2013 at 9:14 pm

    Love the article, I went after him in every league that im in.
    I was able to trade for him in two of my leagues.
    1st I got him for Donald Jones and the 2nd trade was for B. Powell
    3.05 pick In 2013 rookie draft.
    I look at holding onto him like holding on to a early players like Reggie Bush,
    Or Fragile Freddy T.
    I mean people are still holding out hope for Pierre Thomas and Chris Ivory.
    I’m going to give him all the way to 2014 to prove himself, instead of carring
    3 prospect wr I will carry 2.

  9. Doug Veatch

    July 2, 2013 at 9:40 pm

    If I’m doing a startup draft JStew is the first player I cross off my list. People keep arguing that the guy is an athletic freak. But at what point does constant plaguing injuries rob you of your explosiveness? I think he’s safely hit that benchmark. There comes a point in dynasty leagues where patience becomes ignorance. He’s already closing in on 27 years old as well. If a RB can’t perform when he’s young, how does anyone expect him to do it in the latter half of his career? Doesn’t make sense to me. His value is equivalent to a mid second round pick in my eyes, but I’d rather have the pick.

    • Scott Peak

      July 2, 2013 at 11:29 pm

      Agreed, Doug. I’d rather fill my roster spot with a young talent who has the chance to gain value rather than Stewart, who seems to lose value every year, and is just not a reliable starter or even flex play. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve started Stewart, in PPR leagues, and watch him put up 5 points. Stewart has scored 10 touchdowns in three years. Three! Adrian Peterson put up 39 TDs in three years, and that includes his ACL blowout in 2011. Whether it’s injuries, situation, a poor coaching staff, or bad luck, I’m done with Stewart. I won’t touch him in any format, and I’ve been dreaming of dumping him from two of my dynasty teams since last season was over. Problem is, I’m not going to trade him for peanuts, but I can’t get players ranked >10 spots below him, either. So, basically, I’m hoping for a miracle.

  10. Nevercrywolf

    July 3, 2013 at 6:12 pm

    Eric, I completely agree with you. I think if you treat JStew like a developmental player, his value is excellent. Not that he’s young, I just mean treat him like a player that may or may not work out.
    I recently traded AJ Jenkins for JStew basically straight up (some low picks went both ways). I have him as my RB4 and have LeMichael James as RB5. If it doesn’t work out, that’s OK. He’s just a backup flex player at this point.

    I definitely think he is a buy low.

  11. Eric

    July 5, 2013 at 1:58 pm

    I think I’d rather own Dwill. His ongoing ankle issues . . . I mean please.

  12. BB Wayne

    July 7, 2013 at 7:30 pm

    LOL. See Dynasty Doctor. ^^^

    • Eric Hardter

      July 8, 2013 at 1:11 pm

      Scott wrote a great article, no doubt, but I’m not reading anything to dissuade me of my opinions. He’ll be healthy at the outset of 2013, which is all you can ask for – injuries happen. I’ll take my chances on his talent, especially at the cost.

      • BB Wayne

        July 8, 2013 at 6:10 pm

        Nearly everybody has value at the right price. However, history is typically a predictor of the future, of course there are a few outliers like All Day, and J Stew may be healthy now but the ankles will fail.

        If he’s priced right then a flier is worth it but so was Best….

        • JohnnyD

          July 29, 2013 at 9:33 pm

          But JStew is not healthy now. I really wanna believe, but I don’t see any basis to believe he is healthy now or that “his health won’t be a concern entering 2013.” I fully expect the ankle injuries to minimally dog him into the season. Wouldn’t surprise me in the least if it lasted most / all season.

          BTW – anybody notice the obvious pattern in his yearly production? Good year, bad year, good year, bad year. Like clock work:

          2008 – RB32 (Bad),
          2009 – RB15 (Good),
          2010 – RB44 (Bad),
          2011 – RB18 (Good),
          2012 – RB50 (Bad),
          2013 – ? (?)

          It’s like he has one good year in him, then breaks down, recovers & repeats the process. Oh well, if the pattern holds, 2012 was a bad year; so that must mean 2013 will be a good year!

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