The Panthers finished 10th in rushing yards per game in 2016 averaging 113 yards per game. That’s not a bad performance but it’s a big dip from the previous season’s 142 ypg, good for 2nd in the NFL. Of course if you take away Cam Newton’s 90 carries for 359 yards it’s not near as impressive. Which leads us to the running backs.
218 carries for 824 yards (3.8 ypc) with 9 TDs and 2 lost fumbles
Stewart had a modest year at best, finishing 19th in the NFL in yards per game at 63.4. He once again missed games due to injury (3) and it’s now been six seasons since he played all 16 games. In spite of the lack of stats Stewart did finish the season somewhat strong. His week 15 performance in Washington was easily his best of the season, ripping off 132 yards on 25 carries (5.3 ypc) to put a serious damper on the Redskins playoff hopes.
In the passing game Stewart had one of the lowest outputs of his career. He only caught 8 balls for 60 yards and zero TDs. I think you can attribute that to the fact the Panthers playbook doesn’t include a lot of passing to the RB.
Overall when healthy Stewart can be a very effective RB who also excels in other aspects of the position, in particular pass protection. He’s a tough runner who always fights for yards and more often than not will throw a serious stiff arm at would be tacklers. Hence why Stewart typically is in the top 10 for broken tackles by a RB.
Whitaker had his most productive season as a Panther, getting 57 carries for 267 yards. He also almost matched that yardage, adding 227 yards on 25 catches out of the backfield. Whitaker’s best game was easily week 2 when he filled in for Stewart and went for 100 yards on 16 carries while adding another 31 yards on 3 catches.
When called upon Whitaker looked every bit of the 3rd down flex back who can run the ball between the tackles or catch the ball out of the backfield on 3rd down. I think he could have had a bigger season if his number had been called more often.
CAP got three starts for the injured Jonathan Stewart early in the season but then never got a jersey the rest of the season. I’m sure if that was because of his performance in those games or if he just doesn’t fit the game plan when not the lead back. Whatever the reason it did not bode well for his future in Carolina.
In those three starts he ran is 36 times for 144 yards (4.0 ypc) with two TDs but a long run of 14 yards. CAP doesn’t appear to gave the burst to be much of threat to score from a distance but he is a tough runner between the tackles.
The backfield as a unit appears very functional and a decent fit for the Mike Shula offense. Could they provide more of big play threat? Certainly. Adding a talent like Leonard Fournette or Dalvin Cook while retaining Stewart and Whitaker would be a nice upgrade. Yet if the Panthers decide to retain the same three players going into 2017 then they will need to add playmakers at other positions, such as TE or WR. But I digress... I think bringing back the same three wouldn’t be the worse scenario possible as I think they are all primed for a better season in 2017.