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Perception vs. Reality: Jonathan Stewart

Perception vs. Reality is a semi-regular premium-exclusive series that will focus in on a few players that for one reason or another (at least in the eyes of this writer), seem to have a slightly distorted value or a very wide range for their value in the dynasty community as a whole. The goal of this series will be to ignore the common perceptions that might be either too generous or much too harsh based on the name value of the player, the media coverage, or any other number of reasons.

This is not intended to be a buy or sell series, since some of these players will have owners that are extremely high on them, making them impossible to buy at decent value, while others will have owners that are extremely low on them. Instead, this is a series that will hopefully make you channel your inner Dennis Green and make sure that players “are who we thought they were.”

The previous installments can be found below:

Michael Crabtree
Joe Flacco

Jonathan_Stewart2Today we will take a look at none other than the DLF lightning rod of fantasy running backs with “potential,” Jonathan Stewart. Chances are, at one point in time, you’ve been on one end of the spectrum or the other with him. Some of you have thought that he was a top five running back in the making, while others have thought that he was little more than an overhyped bust. There are probably more than a few of you that have actually been on both ends of the spectrum with him over the years, which makes him the perfect candidate for this series.

Back in high school, Stewart was a very high profile athlete. He earned numerous national awards including being named to the All-USA high school team by USA Today and being the Gatorade player of the year for his home state of Washington. This put him on the radar of pretty much every high profile college program in the nation. In the end, Stewart ended up staying close to home and going with the flashy uniforms of Oregon.

As a true freshman, he scored on five of his first 20 touches – that’s 25% of the time. Just for perspective, at that pace, Adrian Peterson would have scored 97 touchdowns this season. As the year went on, Stewart tapered off a little bit, but still managed to score nine touchdowns on 72 touches which is a ridiculous 12.5%. During his second year in college, he continued to display triple threat ability by being the leading rusher while splitting time, catching 20 passes and being sixth in the country in return yardage while totaling 11 touchdowns.

Of his three years in college, his Junior season in 2007 is the one people remember. In that season, Stewart dominated many games on his way to nearly 1,900 yards from scrimmage on about 300 touches with over 600 yards on 23 kick returns. His 6.2 yards per carry were impressive, especially when you look at some of his opponents that year which included three top ten teams. It was then that Stewart decided to take his talents to the next level.

It was at the NFL Combine in the Spring of 2008 that Stewart really stood out. Checking in at 5’10” and a rather chiseled 235 pounds, Stewart had the look of a power back. The 28 reps on the bench press and massive jumps of 10’8” board jump with 36.5” vertical backed up the strength of both his arms and legs.

Then he started to run.

His 4.46 seconds in the 40 yard dash with a 1.46 second ten yard split (which is better than just about any back you’ve heard of not named Chris Johnson) showed off his speed, especially for a running back of his size. His speed score is still one of the best ever. All of this led to him being picked at #13 overall in the draft, the second back taken behind Darren McFadden.

Upon his arrival in the NFL, Stewart flashed his talent many times. As a rookie, he rushed 184 times for 836 yards and ten touchdowns – that was good for 4.5 yards per carry. During his second season, he appeared to be turning into the elite runner than many of us expected him to be when he had 221 rushes for 1,133 yards (5.1 yards per carry) and ten touchdowns with 18 catches, 139 yards and one more touchdown through the air.

Unfortunately for Stewart owners, 2009 has been the high point of his career.

In 2010, he missed two games with an injury and was limited to 178 carries for 770 yards (4.3 yards per carry) and had only two scores. The following year, many had hoped that “lead” running back DeAngelo Williams would leave in free agency before the season began, putting Stewart in the feature role. As we all know, this didn’t happen. Stewart was more productive in 2011, but was used in a different role due in part to the presence of rookie quarterback Cam Newton. Stewart ended up with only 142 carries, 761 yards (5.4 yards per carry), and four scores. The good news on the 2011 season was his use in the passing game where he had 47 catches for 413 yards and a touchdown, giving some hope that he’d at least be a great PPR back.

Then the 2012 season crushed most of the Stewart fans who were still clinging to hope as he only played in nine games, had only 110 touches (93 carries and 17 catches). He had 336 yards on the ground (3.6 yards per carry) to go with the 157 in the air and only two scores on the year.

That brings us to the present day. Let’s take a look at some of the common perceptions about Mr. Stewart:

1.)      “This will be his sixth season in the league. He’s getting pretty old and won’t produce now.”

True, 2013 will be his sixth year in the NFL. However, keep in mind that he didn’t have a redshirt season in college and he had just turned 21 when he was drafted. He’ll enter next season as a 26 year old, which still gives him several more years to be productive. When you add in the fact that he’s had only 818 carries in the NFL, plus 516 in college, there is a lot of tread on the tires.

2.)      He’s one of the most injury prone back in the league, just like McFadden.”

This really isn’t a fair comparison at all. Stewart has played in 71 out of 80 possible games in his pro career. That’s almost 89%, which is pretty good for a running back. In fact, he has only missed games in two of his five seasons – two games in 2010 and seven in 2012. This perception has come about because of his frequent appearances on the injury report, though he almost always plays. That doesn’t exactly mean he is healthy, though. Even going back to college, Stewart has had issues with his ankles and toes. He did have toe surgery just before the draft and recently had surgery on the ankle that kept him out of the seven games this year.

3.)      “He is a top 5 talent in the NFL. All that he needs is the opportunity!”

Maybe, maybe not.

In the nine games he played in the 2012 season, he averaged over 4.0 yards per carry only twice. Combine that with his season yards per carry dropping to just 3.6 this season and he isn’t trending in the right direction. 2011 was better with 9 of his 16 games topping the 4.0 yards per carry mark, where he had 5.4 yards per carry on the season. Overall, Stewart does have a career mark of a respectable 4.7 yards per carry. It is true to say he hasn’t had much of opportunity, though. In the last two seasons, he has had only a single game with over 15 carries. If you go back to 2010, he had four games over that mark with six more in 2009 – that’s only 11 games in the last four years.  For comparison, Adrian Peterson had over 15 carries in all but one of his games this season and he had exactly 15 carries in the one he didn’t.

4.)      “He will never get the opportunity due to Williams, Newton and Mike Tolbert.”

We’ve already seen he hasn’t had the opportunity with that cast. The question is if that will change. Williams will be 30 at the start of next season and will make nearly $5 million in base salary next season, almost $6 million in 2014, and about $7 million in 2015. It will be very surprising if he makes it one more year, let alone two. Tolbert is signed rather cheaply at just under $2.5 million for each of the next three seasons, so he isn’t going anywhere. Newton isn’t going anywhere, either. He’s clearly their quarterback for the next few years at a minimum, and he is good running the ball. In fact, he’s had right about 120 carries for 700 yards both years. He’s also had just over 20 goal line carries each year. Don’t expect too much of that to go away, which means Stewart will definitely be sharing the load even if Williams leaves, but 250 carries definitely isn’t out of the question, which would be just over 15 carries a game.

5.)      “Maybe Stewart will get traded to a different team and be a stud there.”

This is pretty unlikely.

Stewart has a base salary this season of only $1 million. There isn’t any way he is being traded or sent elsewhere for the 2013 season. Before the 2014 season, things get a little bit cloudier. He is due a $9 million dollar bonus before the 2014 season. If 2013 goes the same way that 2012 does, it is tough to picture the Panthers picking that up. If it goes more like his earlier years, it is hard to envision them passing on it. Aside from that roster bonus, the rest of his new contract is rather team friendly and reasonably incentive based. In other words, if you think Stewart is an asset, you need to count on him being with the Panthers long term.

Bottom Line

Stewart does and always has had a very special physical skill set. No one can deny that. The question is if he will ever get the opportunity to show that before age and injuries steal what made him special, if they haven’t already. He is one of the best lottery tickets in fantasy football right now, not because he’s ever going to be a top five back, but because so many of his former supporters are ready to take whatever they can get for him as they jump ship.

There is definitely a chance he never gets the opportunity or fizzles when he finally does, but I feel that it is more likely that he posts very solid RB2 numbers and ends up being a top 20 RB for the next few seasons. I doubt he will ever get a big enough share to reach RB1 numbers, though. Like pretty much all players who will be featured in this series, what you do with him all comes down to price. If someone will sell him at backup running back prices (which is very likely in many leagues), I would suggest buying and taking the risk. If they want starter prices, I don’t think there is enough reward to balance that same element of risk – he’s just not worth it.

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Robert Abele
9 years ago

Nice article. Part of the dance is buying low and selling high and in most cases, I’ve got to believe you can get him on the cheap. At minimal cost, his talent may finally pay off. If you get more of the same out of Stewart and the crappy Panther running game system, well then, you didn’t lose much to begin with. Savvy owners need to realize that Stewart is a hold.

Robert Abele
9 years ago

…or they were able to cash in when all the Williams trade rumors were out there. I still believe in his talent, although it may never be realized. So, for me, he’s a hold.

Melish1631
9 years ago

Great points, especially the tread on the tires point…I’d buy him if it were reasonable! He still doesn’t play tough IMO

bamafan1987
9 years ago

I got him for BJGE this offseason. With BJGE being older and with the Bengals making it known they are looking to add to their backfield, I feel better having Stewart on my team than an average talent like BJGE. No one can question Stewart’s talent, while all that was good about BJGE was his situation. So if/when BJGE’s situation changes this offseason, I feel this deal will be a very solid deal for my team.

9 years ago

Jacob,

When you say you’d buy him for “back-up RB prices”, what range are you taking about? Do you mean back-up fantasy RBs or back-up NFL RBs? After reading the article I was surprised you concluded by saying you’d consider him at any price.

Thanks.
Tim

Frank The Tank
9 years ago

I love reading about Stewart and all his fans, I for one would love to fleece a Stewart fanboy for all they’re worth. I dont understand all the love but I’ll be glad to capitalize on it. Yes he has great “potential” but that and $2 will get you a slice of pizza. As long as he’s in the same position he’s in he’ll never reach full potential. Great article.

Johnny D
9 years ago

To validate the point, I picked up JStew on the waiver wire near the end of the year in one of my dynasty leagues. Seriously. Feels like the panthers are pulling the “lucy with the football” trick again with indications Deangelo will be released this offseason. Now if *that* happens, then JStew holders can expect a tick up in their returns. If not, well… Lucy’s holding the football yet again!

Reply to  Johnny D
9 years ago

Wow. I’m frustrated as any owner with JStew, but I’d grab him in a heart beat if he were on waivers. That’s crazy. Nice work.

9 years ago

NIce article Jacob.

I used to beat the drum for Jonathan Stewart, and I own him on two dynasty teams. However, I am rapidly losing confidence he will ever reach his potential. Bill Parcells once said, “You are what your record says you are”, and I think Jonathan Stewart has an adequate sample size to say he will probably not fulfill his vast potential, whether it is from nagging injuries or WIlliams/Newton stealing his opportunities. My expectation for Stewart is he will provide RB3 or flex numbers for 2-3 years, and that is assuming he can stay healthy enough to play. I won’t trade him for peanuts, though. I would want at least RB2 prices, just because, if I”m wrong, he has the ceiling to hit that, and after all the frustation in owning him, I don’t want to watch him blow up on another team. That would be even worse than dealing with failed expectations.

Cyrus Miller
9 years ago

I will admit, I traded two 2013 firsts and swapped a 2nd for a 3rd during the offseason last year to get Stewart and Dalton. So I probably paid too much. (1.07 and 1.12 were the picks). That said, I half did it out of pity, because the guy who had Stewart had traded me what became the 1.01 and 1.03 for him.

My take on everything is this:
The running game in CAR was bad last year. They need to figure out what works well and do it. Cam will always be a goalline vulture, and if not then Tolbert, but Stewart can have value if he is able to break long runs like he did in the past.

I’m holding onto him hoping that the offense as a whole improves and he gets a chance. I am not expecting RB1, but I think his floor next year is low RB3, and his ceiling is around #10-15. I have him as my RB3 behind Martin/Sproles, so I will just hold on and hope he performs.

Ariakis S
9 years ago

I got Spiller JStew at midseason and he threw in Lamar Miller too. Stewart kinda strikes me as headed down the Ronnie Brown career path. I’m avoiding unless he’s available cheap!

Tom Sandness
9 years ago

Yea, Im always looking to buy him, but whats tough the owners I play with all paid a fairley large price to get him

Instead of looking to move him for value, he seems to be hold for a lot of teams

Patrick Kerrane
9 years ago

I just acquired him for Leshoure & Vereen… before reading this article. Having now read this, along with the other owner jumping at my offer, makes me suspect I over-payed for him. But, I like what I’m hearing out of Carolina right now. The new OC seems like he’s going to install a more traditional power running scheme instead of running out of the shotgun all the time. And the team bringing in a new GM and restructuring Stewart’s contract make me think that DeAngelo is likely to be a cap casualty. I doubt Stewart will ever score a lot of touchdowns, but neither does Matt Forte and he’s still a very solid #2 RB. I’m basically hoping that Stewart can stay healthy and finish somewhere between RB12-RB20.

Robert Schramm
9 years ago

I had a complete falling out with an owner in a Dynasty league who tried to convince me that it was a decent offer to trade me J. Simpson for JStew straight up. I told him it was a joke of an offer, which he defended and then dropped Simpson the next week for TE Housler. Then, he laughed when I picked up Simpson off of waivers. Some people are just absolutely ridiculous. I am in a holding pattern with him cuz, I cannot get anything of real value for him right now. But, two monster games in a row and a clear starting job and we will see what he is worth. Let’s hope that happens.

nottafritada
9 years ago

Would you trade Jordy Nelson for Jonathan Stewart?…we only keep 8 players, standard scoring

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