The Carolina Panthers certainly raised some eyebrows when they released DeAngelo Williams and decided to make Jonathan Stewart the featured running back in this offense. Entering his eighth season, Stewart was never really asked to carry the run game as he split the workload with Williams and only one time has surpassed 200 carries in his career. Injuries have also played a role in this as he has missed 20 games the previous three seasons before 2015 and played a full 16 games once since 2010.
Well the gamble in the offseason has certainly paid off as Stewart has been one of the top running backs in the league this year. He currently ranks second in the NFL in carries (211) and missed tackles (45) and third in the NFL in rushing yards (832) and yards after contact (523), according to Pro Football Focus.
In 2015, he has averaged 19.18 carries per game and 75 rushing yards per game which is well above his career averages of 11.56 carries per game and only 53.61 rushing yards per game. If he keeps these averages over the final five games, he will set career highs in rushing attempts and rushing yards.
The Panthers' offense has been one of the best rushing attacks, running the ball the most in the NFL and have the fourth most rushing yards. Stewart has been pretty much a one man band as he has carried the ball more than twice the next player on this offense, Cam Newton has 98 rushing attempts. The numbers get even more impressive when you look at just the team's running backs as Mike Tolbert only has 37 carries, Fozzy Whittaker has nine, and Cameron Artis-Payne has 12.
There was never any questions about Stewart's talent but he has never really had the opportunity to shine as the featured running back. The Panthers' front office took a risk this year relying primarily on Stewart, especially with the injury history, but it has paid tremendous dividends and the offense is reaping the benefits of a career year from Jonathan Stewart.