However, as a featured back he saw his workload increase and he had 292 carries, which was 71 more carries than his previous career high in 2009. He had eight straight games during the regular season with over 20 carries per game and saw his carries per game rise to an average of 18.25. Prior to 2015, Stewart had a career average of 11.62 per game.
The biggest concern with the increase in work is whether or not the Panthers' running back would be able to stay healthy over an entire season. This concern became a reality at the end of the season as Stewart missed the final three regular season games.
This raises the question then if the coaching staff should cut Stewart's carries back in 2016? The short answer is yes.
Aside from hopefully keeping Stewart fresher throughout the season, he is actually more effective in games that he gets less than 20 carries.
|Games||Total Carries||Total Yards||Yards Per Carries||Rushing Touchdowns|
|Less than 20 carries per game||8||119||513||4.31||5|
|More than 20 carries per game||8||173||694||4.01||4|
If the coaching staff does cut down Stewart's carries, the team would have to turn to last year's fifth-round draft pick Cameron Artis-Payne, who played well in place of Stewart. In the three games Stewart was out at the end of the regular season, the former Auburn running back showed not only he can run between the tackles but make explosive plays. In two of the three games, Artis-Payne had runs over 25 yards and finished those three games with an average of 4.6 yards per carry.
However, if the team wants to add more talent to the backfield, there is plenty of options in the upcoming NFL Draft. The Panthers have already shown interest in Alabama running back Derrick Henry, who is scheduled to visit with the team in April.
Ron Rivera and Mike Shula will have the tough task of finding a balance next season in giving Jonathan Stewart enough work to keep the talented running back a factor in the game but at the same time making sure he can stay healthy over an entire season.
One thing is clear though that the team will need to find a way to cut Stewart's carries back and unless they add another running back, this should mean an increased role for Artis-Payne in 2016.