But looking at Williams and Stewart simply as great teammates may be selling both of the players short.
The case could be made that DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart are individually the two best running backs in the NFL. Here is why:
Rushing Yards Per Attempt
In the four years that Jonathan Stewart has been in the NFL (2008-2011), he and DeAngelo Williams lead the league in rushing yards per attempt as found at pro-football-reference.com (data here). Here are the top five leaders in this category between 2008-2011:
Rushing Yards Per Attempt Leaders 2008-2011 (Min 600 Attempts)
1. DeAngelo Williams, CAR - 5.24 Y/A
2. Jonathan Stewart, CAR - 4.83 Y/A
3. LeSean McCoy, PHI - 4.77 Y/A
4. Chris Johnson, TEN - 4.76 Y/A
5. Arian Foster, HOU - 4.70 Y/A
Over the last four years, DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart have led the NFL in rushing yards per attempt. This feat is even more incredible when considering that in 2010 the Panthers had one of the worst passing games in NFL history as Matt Moore, Jimmy Clausen, Brian St. Pierre, and Tony Pike all took turns under center.
In 2010 the terrible Panthers passing game dropped DeAngelo Williams from 5.2 Y/A in 2009 to 4.1 in 2010. Jonathan Stewart dropped from 5.1 Y/A in 2009 to 4.3 in 2010. Despite the statistical nightmare in 2010, Williams and Stewart are still at the top of the NFL in rushing yards per attempt as individuals over the last four years.
2011 Advanced Statistics
When it comes to advanced statistics, Football Outsiders is the industry standard. One of the advanced stats used by Football Outsiders to measure the value of players is DVOA - Defense-adjusted Value Over Average. Without getting too lost in the weeds, DVOA measures how effective running backs performed relative to NFL averages based on down, distance, field position, opponent, and other factors. You can read the full DVOA description here.
In 2011, DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart were second and third in the league among running backs in DVOA (data here).
DVOA Leaders 2011 - Min 100 Rushes
1. Pierre Thomas, NO - 32.6%
2. Jonathan Stewart, CAR - 24.4%
3. DeAngelo Williams, CAR - 19.1%
4. LeSean McCoy, PHI - 17.4%
5. Donald Brown, IND - 16.7%
When compared to how running backs performed in similar game situations, the Panthers "Double Trouble" tandem of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart ranked second and third individually in the NFL in their value per rushing play in 2011.
Complete and Total Domination in 2012?
Individually speaking, DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart may be the two best running backs in the NFL. As demonstrated above, there are objective statistics that validate this point.
Williams and Stewart should both have huge seasons in 2012. In 2011 quarterback Cam Newton was a rookie and the Panthers were implementing a new offense under a new coaching staff without the benefit of a traditional training camp. Despite these circumstances in 2011, both Williams and Stewart averaged 5.4 yards per attempt.
With a full season now under their belts with offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski's innovative offense, DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart should once again be the best running back teammates in the NFL.
But don't sell them short.
Because individually speaking, DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart may possibly be the two best running backs in the NFL.
Andrew Sweat is a die-hard Panthers fan. For more from this author, visit Andrew's archive or check these out articles:
- American Football
- Sports & Recreation
- Jonathan Stewart
- DeAngelo Williams