One of the most common criticisms when it comes to the Carolina Panthers is their dedication of resources to their running back corps. In a league that is beginning to realize the interchangeability of the position, the Panthers have gone against the grain, lavishing lucrative long term deals on not one, not two, but three running backs. Jonathan Stewart was given a 5 year, 36.5 million dollar pact, a contract they've been forced to restructure in order to free up cap space. Williams and Tolbert are each armed with 10 million dollar deals, Williams for three years, Tolbert for four.
After doling out tens of millions of dollars to fortify one area of the team, Carolina has a right to expect reasonable production. But, that's not what they've gotten. Stewart can't seem to stay on the field, as he hasn't broken 1,000 yards or 200 carries in a season since 2009. Tolbert is an adept runner at the goal line, but grossly overpaid for the service he provides. While he has produced 14 TDs over the past 2 seasons, he has yet to sniff the end zone this season and has averaged 0.7(!) yards per carry.
With the news coming down in the aftermath of Sunday's beat down at the hands of the Pittsburgh Steelers that Stewart is dealing with a severely sprained knee and Tolbert has suffered a hairline fracture, this puts a major onus on DeAngelo Williams to carry the Panthers' ground game going forward. The Panthers are dangerously thin behind Williams, as fourth stringer Fozzy Whittaker is also coping with a quadriceps injury. Other than practice squad fill in Darrin Reaves, Williams will get the vast majority of the work in the Panthers' backfield.
Cam Newton is typically leaned on as a running threat, but he is trying to play through the pain of recovering from ankle surgery and fractured ribs. This makes Williams a valuable add in almost any fantasy league. Stewart and Tolbert's injuries look to be fairly serious. Williams has occasionally struggled with his own injuries, as he is currently on the mend from a hamstring ailment. However, over the past 3 seasons, he's only missed 9 of a possible 48 starts and has never averaged less than 4 yards a carry in any year of his career.
The Panthers' offense is built around running the ball to set up plays for Greg Olsen and Kelvin Benjamin down the field. With a gimpy Newton and a depleted RB stable, look for Williams to get the ball early and often against the Ravens and Bears in the next 2 weeks. In a league where teams spread the word evenly among a group of runners, Williams has a chance to become an unlikely bell cow back. Cam Newton's situation should also be monitored, as he took several big hits during the Pittsburgh contest and may require some time off. If the Panthers turn to Derek Anderson, this will put an even greater emphasis on the ground game.
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