After almost doubling his rushing total from 2006 last year, University of Oregon Ducks running back Jonathan Stewart (toe), a junior, decided to take a stab at this year's draft. Stewart is coming off his best season as a Duck, one in which the team was looking at a BCS Bowl game if they did not suffer a late-season slump.
He did not receive any end-of-year awards, but Stewart was considered a unanimous All-Pac 10 Conference first-team player. He also finished as a semi-finalist for the Maxwell Award (College Player of the Year) and the Doak Walker Award (premier running back in the nation). In addition to those awards, Stewart also set a school single-season record with 2,481 all-purpose yards. It was arguably one of the best seasons in Duck's history for their running back.
To whoever gets Stewart, he is a strong back that has decent speed and can help in almost every facet of the offense: running, receiving, blocking and even on special teams.
Where to begin with Stewart? After 183 carries, 981 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns in 2006, Stewart exploded onto the national stage last year. He finished the season with 1,722 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns. Even more impressive was his 6.2 yards-per-carry average. His longest run this year was 88 yards, showing he can also be a home run threat.
One of his biggest positives regarding Stewart is consistency. Only once last year he averaged less than 4.1 yards per carry. That game came against the University of California-Los Angeles late in the season when he was suffering from a turf toe injury. Oregon quarterbacks Dennis Dixon (knee) and Brady Leaf (ankle) were also out for most of that game (in Dixon's case the whole game), which put a lot of the pressure on two untested signal callers. Thus, it could be forgiven that Stewart wasn't himself as he was dealing with an injury and extra defenders in the box.
Putting up big numbers in the college game is one thing, but how will Stewart adapt to life in the National Football League is another big question? While it is not possible to know until he steps onto the field, there are some pretty big indicators that he will be successful at the next level.
Stewart's strength is ranked among the best at his position as he bench pressed 225 pounds 28 times at the NFL Scouting Combine. Only two other backs did more than that, and they are both projected as fullbacks. He also has solid speed, not breakaway-type speed, but he does not need it as much with his size and strength. His yards-per-carry average is also another great indicator as he shows he can play in all types of games, against top teams and the bottom-feeders. He also proved his mettle by playing through numerous injuries at the collegiate level, showing his heart and determination.
His strength also helped in working behind an offensive line that was not among the best last year. This means that if he was to go to a team with a weak offensive line, he could still put up decent numbers, in theory.
It is hard to find faults in Stewart's game. There are some questions surrounding Stewart's durability as he has missed time in previous campaigns. In 2006, he suffered a series of ankle injuries that limited his playing time. Last year, he played in all 13 games; however, he was not 100 percent healthy as he battled ankle (sprain), toe (turf toe) and hand (contusion) injuries. Those types of injuries could be magnified once he hits the big stage in the National Football League. He suffered a turf toe injury last November that required eventual surgery (after he played on it and performed well at the combine with it). The injury is said to keep him out approximately three months before he is at full strength, but a setback could cost him six months.
Stewart does not have the greatest speed of the backs in this class, which sometimes leads him to getting caught from behind when others might get away. His 4.48 40 time isn't shabby at all, but he lacks a true second gear. Other than that, there is not much you can criticize about Stewart.
Expected Draft Placement
In any other year, Stewart would be going higher, but because of a deep draft class he is being overlooked. With that said, don't expect him to fall much later than the middle of the first round. The Detroit Lions are an option with the No. 15 pick in the draft after release running back Kevin Jones (knee). The Arizona Cardinals could be looking for a back to replace running back Edgerrin James in a year or two (they might want to get that line solidified first), and they pick at No. 16 overall. If teams view Stewart's injury has a major concern, it is conceivable for him to fall all the way into the late stages of the first round or perhaps into the top of the second. Don't expect a free fall of multiple rounds, but a slight drop in his stock can be expected.
About Bryce McRae
Bryce McRae is a Managing Editor with KFFL and has been involved in fantasy sports since 1999. He joined KFFL as a volunteer writer in March 2005 before becoming a Hot off the Wire Analyst in March 2006. He began working in his current capacity in September 2008. His work has appeared on fantasy sports sites such as Yahoo! and CBS Sportsline as well as in print. He graduated from the University of British Columbia in 2008 with a B.A. in History and U.S. Studies.
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