Jonathan Stewart likely to play Sunday; fantasy owners should hold off

US PRESSWIRE

The Panthers running back could make his season debut this week. We break down the fantasy implications.

Carolina Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart appears increasingly likely to make his 2013 debut Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons, according to the Charlotte Observer. Stewart practiced in full pads Wednesday, his first such practice in almost a year after dealing with multiple ankle injuries.

With Stewart out, the team's starter, DeAngelo Williams, has rushed for 477 yards (good for tenth in the league) while No. 2 running back Mike Tolbert has gotten the goal-line touches and notched five touchdowns.

"He just looked fast. Fresh legs," head coach Ron Rivera told the Observer about Stewart's practice performance. "Seriously, he looked good. He made some really nice cuts. So it's exciting. It really is."

Fantasy impact: With a running back who hasn't played in almost a year, it seems unlikely the Panthers are just going to give Stewart anything approximating a full workload, especially with the Williams-Tolbert combination offering perfectly-acceptable performance to this point. Assuming he plays Sunday -- and there's no reason at this point to expect otherwise -- Stewart will get a few carries, but nothing worth getting excited about in fantasy, as the team works him back into game shape.

Stewart is four years removed from his best season, when he and Williams both topped 1,100 yards for the Panthers. Even in that season, most of his production came in a five-game stretch at the end of the season. He averaged less than 50 rushing yards a game before Week 13 that year, which is more in line with what he's done in his career.

Assuming Stewart gets back to full health and becomes a real part of the Carolina offense, he still probably slots in as the team's third running back. Williams will still get plenty of yardage, and Tolbert is still the team's best goal-line option among running backs. It's hard to picture Stewart being a truly viable fantasy option in 2013.

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