It was a very promising finish last season for Jonathan Stewart, but the Carolina Panthers know how easily he can get injured, and are trying to figure out who’ll be the running back that helps Stewart share the load or fill his place when he eventually goes down.
Last season Stewart played in 13 games after missing 17 in the two previous seasons combined. He rushed for 809 yards and scored three touchdowns, his best since rushing for 1133 yards in 2009. Still, at 27, the Panthers know it might not get any better than that.
So who is there to help him out? Fifth-round pick Cameron Artis-Payne seems to be the favorite to help Stewart out and get the most carries next to him. He rushed for 1608 yards last season with Auburn, and while he is behind both Fozzy Whittaker (145 yards last season) and Darrin Reaves (78 yards last season) in terms of training camp reps, he has a much better shot of filling in for Stewart when it’s about finding an every-down back.
Artis-Payne led the SEC last season in rushing and has no problem carrying a “workhorse” kind of load. Last season the Panthers had only two players, Stewart and Cam Newton, rushing for more than 500 yards. As Newton attempts to become more and more of a pocket passer and not someone who takes off on every down, there’s more room for others besides the leading rusher to carry the ball.