At this year's draft, Panthers coach John Fox had one objective: to find physical players who would help the team return to the grinding style that was its signature when Carolina went to the Super Bowl in 2004.
So imagine Fox's thrill when Oregon RB Jonathan Stewart was available with the 13th overall pick. Take a look at the league's scouting report on Stewart: "Rarely brought down by first tackler … not the type to run out of bounds … has extra gear."
At 5'10", 235 pounds, Stewart combines 4.4 40 speed with the strength of an O-lineman (his 28 reps of 225 pounds at the combine was more than that of any TE). And in only five games, Stewart has revitalized the Panthers.
Yeah, we know, a healthy Jake Delhomme and Steve Smith's return from suspension help. But offensive coordinator Jeff Davidson's scheme is built around a punishing run game. In a Week 2, come-from-behind win over Chicago, Stewart busted out against the Bears' stingy D for 76 second-half yards and both Panthers TDs. "The way he runs low to the ground, he's nearly impossible to bring down," says RB coach Jim Skipper.
Stewart already splits carries with DeAngelo Williams, averaging 4.4 ypc, and is the clear choice in the red zone (he has 4 TDs; Williams has one). "I'm just trying to punish people when it's my time," Stewart says. "When I make up my mind to hit the hole, I stick to it and fight for extra yards."
Opponents have taken notice. "Stewart doesn't ever take a solid hit," says Vikings safety Darren Sharper. "He knows how to move his body, has good vision and is tough to tackle." In other words, he's just the guy Fox was looking for.