It’s time for our Weekly Mailbag! Remember if you’d like your Carolina Panthers question answered, you can tweet us @Cover32_CAR or ask in the comments section. Here’s this week’s question:
I still think DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart are one of the best running back tandems in the NFL when they’re healthy. Throw in Mike Tolbert and I don’t know who has a better stable of running backs in the league. What are realistic expectations for the Panthers’ running backs this year?
-Mike in Pinehurst, NC
The Panthers have ranked in or close to the Top 10 in rushing yards during every season of the Cam Newton/Ron Rivera era, but there’s been an obvious boost in that stat from Newton’s running ability. Last year the coaching staff began the process of weening designed quarterback runs out of the offense in the interests of protecting their most valuable commodity from injury. Add in Cam’s ankle surgery this offseason and you’d expect the amount he runs to go down even more. Best guess is Newton will have roughly 100 rushing attempts in 2014.
That leaves about 350-400 carries left to split amongst Williams, Stewart, Tolbert, rookie sixth round pick Tyler Gaffney and 2013 sixth round pick Kenjon Barner, who struggled to see the field last year but has home run hitting capability.
–DeAngelo Williams had 201 carries in 2013 but 173 in 2012 and 155 in 2011 so it’s fair to estimate he’ll get around 180 carries in 2014. If he averages about 4.2 yards per carry as he has the last two years, then he’ll have 750 yards.
Projection: 180 carries for 750 yards
–Jonathan Stewart has played a combined 15 games in the last two years and hasn’t been very good when he has played, averaging just 3.7 yards per carry (an average NFL running back should average four yards per carry). I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and say he’ll play enough to accumulate 80 carries next year. At 3.7 yards per carry, that’s 296 yards.
Projection: 80 carries for 296 yards
–Mike Tolbert has been a very versatile weapon for Carolina the last couple of years and should continue to rack up touchdowns in short-yardage situations. I don’t expect him to rack up 101 carries again like he did in 2013 though. Jonathan Stewart being a little healthier and Kenjon Barner being a year more mature should eat into that a little bit. Tolbert will probably be closer to 80 carries and at 3.5 yards per carry, where he’s hovered around the last two seasons in Carolina, that’s 280 yards.
Projection: 80 carries for 280 yards
–Kenjon Barner/Tyler Gaffney Barner played very sparingly in 2013 but I would expect him to get an increased role. If he doesn’t, the rookie Gaffney may take some of the carries from the veterans. Between the two, I don’t expect either to see the field much in 2014 but they could still make an impact in limited time.
Projection: 30 carries for 126 yards.
In case you don’t feel like doing the math, I’m projecting the Panthers running backs to accumulate 370 carries for 1452 yards. Throw in another 500 yards from quarterback Cam Newton and that will give Carolina 1952 rushing yards on the season, which would’ve been good for 14th in the NFL in 2013.