When considering which positions are a strength on this Panthers roster the RB position usually is one of the top positions to be mentioned. As deep as we know the Panthers are at RB the truth is the Panthers running game was barely a shade of itself in 2010 as compared to 2009. The Panthers Double Trouble combo of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart followed up their matching 1,100 yard seasons with barely a 1,000 between them in 2010. Before anyone questions whether either one has lost their edge also know they only started 13 between them as well.
There was a bright spot though in the running game. Second year RB Mike Goodson made the most of his increase in carries and showed he has the 'lighting in a bottle' ability he flashed coming of out Texas A&M. We'll look at both the good and the bad with the Panthers RB position....after the jump...
2010 Statistics: 6 GS 87 carries 361 yards (4.1 ypc) 1 TD; 11 rec 61 yds; 1 Fum
The Panthers starting Pro Bowl RB from 2009 played in only 6 games before suffering a leg injury that eventually landed him on IR. Yet even in those 6 games you can see his yards per carry was almost a full yard less than his career 5.0 average. Take away a 39 yd jaunt against the Saints (the only game he scored) and he had a really anemic stat line the entire season. Personally I'm more inclined to lay the blame on the offensive line and game planning as to me Williams showed the same burst, speed and vision of prior years; he simply lacked the running space. Though 4.1 ypc is not bad its simply not what we were accustomed seeing from the electric Williams. Especially after the 1,500 yd 18 TD season of 2008.
2010 Season Stats: 178 carries 770 yds (4.3 ypc) 2 TD; 18 rec 103 yds; 4 Fum
Just like his Double Trouble partner, Stewart also saw his ypc drop from 5.1 in 2009 to 4.3 in 2010. Stewart started 7 games after Williams was injured but also battled injuries himself. When he came back from missing two games in week 12 he went on a tear for four weeks culminating 130+ yards against the Falcons & Cards before fading down the stretch.
I again attribute the sad state of the offense for the drop in production as the average number of carries dropped for Panther RBs in general. That's expected when you can't get first downs and stay on the field. When he did get some running room though Stewart showed he has the ability to be an elite RB. Though I still think he has many much better seasons in front of him it's hard to give anyone on this offense a good grade when their were so epically bad.
2010 Season Stats: 103 carries 452 yds (4.4 ypc) 3 TD; 6 Fum
Goodson was a bright spot at the RB position in 2010. He continued to improve his ability to catch balls out of the backfield and be an x- factor on 3rd down. When both Stewart and Williams were unable to play in weeks 10 & 11 Goodson stepped in and showed he can also carry the feature RB load. In those two starts against the Bucs & Ravens he registered 120 & 100 yds on 23 and 22 carries respectively.Many of those carries were the tough yards between the tackles as he showed nice vision and ability to pick his holes well, a very nice improvement from his moments of hesitation his rookie year. What should not go unnoticed is he led the team in ypc and TD. The one ugly spot though is the 6 fumbles, something he has struggled with since his rookie year.
2010 Season Stats: 13 carries 71 yds (5.5 ypc); 12 rec 70 yds; 0 Fum
Sutton showed again in 2010 that he is a do-everything type of RB. He can play FB, block, run the ball between the tackles and catch it out of the backfield. The problem is he just didn't touch the ball very much. I'm not blaming him for that since that really isn't his role as the 4th RB on the roster. Sutton's best game was easily the second Saints game where he got 10 touches, 7 carries and 3 catches for a total of 56 yards. It is that kind of versatility that will keep Sutton on the Panthers depth chart in 2011.
The burning question at this point is will Williams return to his 2009 form and even more importantly will he return to Carolina at all? When you consider the injury history and depth behind him you can understand why this quesiton will be a key one to get answered once a free agency period begins. Yet even if the Panthers lose Williams I think the RB position will continue to be a strength for the Panthers in 2011.