Football

Carolina picks Stewart, Otah

The personality of the Carolina Panthers' offense changed dramatically in less than an hour today.

In a dramatic one-two first-round punch, the Panthers selected Oregon's big, powerful running back Jonathan Stewart (5-10, 235 pounds) with the 13th pick, then made a bold trade-up from the second round to land massive Pittsburgh offensive tackle Jeffrey Otah (6-6, 339) six picks later.

Getting Otah at pick No. 19 was expensive. The Panthers traded their their second- and fourth-rounders this year and a first rounder next season.

General manager Marty Hurney said it was "extremely" difficult to give up the 2009 first-rounder, but team officials were decisive about doing so. After picking Stewart, Hurney said the Panthers immediately started trying to get back into the first round.

"You never want to give that up," Hurney said of a future first rounder. "But that says a lot about how we feel about Jeffrey Otah. The two players together, I think, really help us toward our goal, of the personality and character. They are two very physical players."

Stewart is a powerful, tackle-breaking runner who also possesses breakaway speed (4.45 seconds in the 40-yard dash). He rushed for 1,722 yards and 11 touchdowns last season, averaging 6.2 yards per carry. He also returned kicks.

Panthers director of college scouting Don Gregory compared Stewart to Cleveland Browns running back Jamal Lewis.

"He bounces off tackles and he's put together," Gregory said of Stewart. "He's a pounder who has speed."

Stewart is recovering from turf toe surgery, which was performed March 12 in Charlotte by one of the Panthers' team doctors, Dr. Robert Anderson. Anderson is one of the nation's most respected foot surgeons.

Stewart said he expects to begin rehabilitation in about a week and to be ready for the start of training camp in late July. He won't participate in the Panthers' post-draft minicamp practices next weekend, but will attend.

Stewart was asked to describe his running style on a conference call with reporters.

"I'm explosive, a power runner North and South -- more North," he said.

"Going around a defender or going through a defender, you just do what it takes."

Carolina hopes Stewart can end its run of failing to hit big with an early-round running back.

It's the third time Carolina has taken a back in the first round. The other two were Tshimanga Biakabutuka (1996) and DeAngelo Williams (2006). The Panthers also selected DeShaun Foster (2002) and Eric Shelton (2005) in the second round.

Williams is still with the Panthers and figures to split carries with Stewart. None of the four previous early-round picks have rushed for 900 yards in a season.

The Panthers believe an improved running game will take some pressure off the passing game and provide more opportunities for star wide receiver Steve Smith in the passing game.

The Panthers' next turns to pick are their two selections (67th and 74th overall) in the third round tomorrow.

However, Hurney didn't rule out trading back into the second round today.

  Comments