Here, we break down Tolbert's fantasy outlook for the 2012 NFL season.
Where He Ranks
Tolbert has not been a very popular fantasy choice this summer. His average draft position in ESPN Fantasy Football Leagues is 151st overall. I wouldn't suggest drafting him until the later rounds, perhaps the 15th or beyond depending on how many teams are in your league.
He is ranked as the 48th-best running back available in ESPN Leagues, but is, on average, the 56th RB chosen in ESPN drafts.
Panthers head coach Ron Rivera is unsure whether running back Jonathan Stewart (ankle injury) will play in Carolina's season opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this Sunday, according to The State's Steve Reed.
If Stewart can't go for the Panthers, expect DeAngelo Williams and Mike Tolbert to carry the rushing load for Carolina. The Bucs ranked dead last in rushing defense last season and will likely surrender tons of yards to the Panthers on the ground this weekend.
Williams and Stewart carried the ball 155 and 142 times, respectively, last season, each averaging exactly 5.4 yards per carry. The two backs combined for 1,597 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground as well.
Both were used a lot in the receiving game too, especially Stewart, who caught 47 balls for 413 yards and four touchdowns. Tolbert can challenge Stewart playing as a receiver out of the backfield, though; he caught 54 balls in 2011.
Given the mass of quality backs on Carolina's roster and the threat of quarterback Cam Newton as a rusher, however, I see Tolbert getting no more than 15-20 percent of the carries for the Panthers in 2012.
With Stewart and Williams taking a majority of the reps in the Panthers backfield, look for Tolbert to become a change-of-pace back used primarily in goal-line or short-yardage situations.
At 5'9", 245 pounds Tolbert is a bulky back who doesn't go down easily.
Here are my 2012 season projections for Tolbert: 70 carries, 350 yards, 5 touchdowns, 30 receptions, 250 yards. Bye: Week 6.
RBs to Target Before Tolbert
Pierre Thomas, LeGarrette Blount and Rashad Jennings are all running backs that you should take before selecting Mike Tolbert this September.
The aforementioned players have much less talent ahead of them at their position on their current roster, thus making them better fantasy options at this point in time.
RBs to Target After Tolbert
Rashard Mendenhall, Brandon Jacobs and James Starks are all running backs that you should consider drafting only after Tolbert has come off the board.
Tolbert is a reliable fantasy option who has played in at least 13 games in all four of his NFL seasons and averaged at least four yards per carry each of the past three years.
Mike Tolbert is a sturdy running back who will earn carries week in and week out thanks to his toughness, but he lacks the game-changing ability to light up the scoreboard for fantasy owners.
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