Stewart could be a fantasy star in 2011

Whether it’s been DeAngelo Williams, Ray Rice or Arian Foster (to name just a few), at least one running back emerges into a superstar every fantasy football season.

I think Panthers RB Jonathan Stewart is next in line.

A talented running back out of Oregon, Stewart put up solid yardage totals in the second half of last season — despite the fact that he received little to no support from Jimmy Clausen and the Panthers’ passing game.

While the current CBA situation has free agency in a state of limbo, Carolina is expected to improve at the quarterback spot this offseason. It also looks more likely that the team will let Williams walk as a free agent.

In fact, NFL Network’s Jason La Canfora reports that the Panthers are likely to use their franchise tag on either C Ryan Kalil or DE Charles Johnson. That would allow Williams to test the open market and give Stewart a chance to take on a featured role, with Mike Goodson moving up to second on the depth chart.

Stewart has proven in the past that he can be a fantasy star, rushing for better than 1,100 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2009 despite starting just three games. If Williams does leave Carolina, Stewart should be able to duplicate such totals next season. At the age of 23, he hasn’t even reached the prime of his career.

Stewart also faces a favorable slate of opponents in 2011 with matchups against the Buccaneers (2), Texans, Jaguars, Colts, Titans, Lions, Cardinals and Redskins. In what will remain a run-based offense under the regime of new coach Ron Rivera, Stewart could be worth as much as a second-round pick if the cards fall right.

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