It's perhaps the worst fantasy football news of the summer. DeAngelo Williams is still a Carolina Panther.
D-Willy agreed to sign a five-year deal with a whopping $21 million guaranteed, a massive contract that indicates the team probably is committed to him as its lead rusher. Of course, Jonathan Stewart is also still around, with two seasons remaining on his rookie contract. And we all know how frustrating that dynamic duo has been from a fantasy perspective over the past three seasons.
Ironically, for all the concerns that dogged him coming out of the University of Oregon, Stew Beef's health has been much better than D-Willy's over the past two years. Williams has missed 13 games the past two seasons, while Stewart (who admittedly has been less than full speed in some games because of lingering foot issues) has missed only two contests in his three-year career. But the fact remains: Neither of these rushers belongs on a list of the safest health bets in the NFL.
And that's where the randomness factor comes in. You see, whichever guy gets hurt, the other leaps to the fantasy forefront. As full-fledged starting backs, there's little doubt Williams and Stewart would border on being top-10 fantasy RBs. New Carolina coach Ron Rivera figures to bring that prototypical "smashmouth" mindset, and considering Cam Newton might be starting from Week 1, the running game is going to be a significant portion of the team's offensive attack. Add in an offensive line that should get right tackle Jeff Otah back to full health (and which has produced huge fantasy seasons for both Williams and Stewart in the recent past), and you understand the upside. But if this is just one more split job, well, prepare yourself for week-to-week aggravation.
Last season, in the six games before Williams got hurt, the workload broke down like this:
DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, Weeks 1-6, 2010
That's nearly a two-thirds/one-third split in D-Willy's favor, and that's why I'd rate Williams above Stewart. However, remember that Stewart had 10 TDs apiece in both '08 and '09 (and Williams dropped from 18 in '08 to seven in '09), and you can understand why Stewart has his proponents.
You have to believe that Williams' injured foot from last year checked out, considering the Panthers just spent so much money on him. But do you feel confident he won't get hurt again? For that matter, do you believe Stewart's toe issues are fully a thing of the past? Yeah, me neither. You're playing Russian roulette to draft either of these guys high (to say nothing of the death blow this move serves to Mike Goodson's value). For the moment, I put Williams' value somewhere in the middle of the pack of No. 2 fantasy rushers and Stewart somewhere in the 20 to 30 range. Obviously, though, if either one ducks out because of injury, the other's value skyrockets.
Christopher Harris is a fantasy analyst for ESPN.com. He is a six-time Fantasy Sports Writers Association award winner. You can ask him questions at www.facebook.com/writerboy and follow him on Twitter at @writerboyESPN.