Mike Tolbert: Why Jonathan Stewart's Injury Makes Panthers RB a Must-Own

Tyler Conway@jtylerconwayFeatured ColumnistSeptember 20, 2012

Aug 17, 2012; Charlotte, NC, USA Carolina Panthers running back Mike Tolbert (35) runs the ball against the Miami Dolphins during the second quarter at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-US PRESSWIRE
Jeremy Brevard-US PRESSWIRE

With Carolina Panthers star running back Jonathan Stewart out (via NFL Network's Stacey Dales) for Thursday night's game against the New York Giants, both DeAngelo Williams and Mike Tolbert should be in line for huge workload increases.

Stewart being inactive was expected. He is still recovering from a preseason ankle injury and exacerbated his injury problem by hurting his toe last week.

Though there is no word on how long Stewart will be out, his absence from the Panthers lineup could provide a huge opportunity for fantasy football owners. While it's almost certain that Williams is owned in your league, Tolbert is available in 77.1 percent of ESPN standard leagues.

Considering Tolbert could be the biggest benefactor of Stewart's injury, fantasy owners across the nation should be grabbing him off the waiver wire.

Here's a look at a few reasons why.


Trickiness of Stewart's Injuries

Coming into tonight the Carolina star has missed just three games over his five-year NFL career, despite seemingly being on the injury report every week.

However, Stewart's assumed absence Thursday night would make it two in three weeks for the 25-year-old, an unsurprising fact when factoring the nature of his injuries.

Both toe and ankle injuries are notoriously tough to gauge and prone to re-injury—especially with running backs. For Stewart to be able to cut effectively and with confidence, he will need full mobility in his lower body.

That could lead to the Panthers star sitting out multiple weeks or simply being ineffective if he plays hurt.

Either way, Tolbert should get more looks as the team mixes in his power with the speed of Williams.


DeAngelo Williams' Age/Injury History

Though the 29-year-old former Pro Bowler played in all 16 games last season and looked strong running the ball last week against the New Orleans Saints, it's undeniable that Williams has a storied injury history of his own.

In 2010, Williams played in just six games, due to a sprained foot, and also missed three games in both 2006 and 2009 while injured.

And, with Williams approaching the age of 30, age also plays a factor here. Stewart's presence has allowed the mileage to stay relatively low on Williams' tires, but he's also not a workhorse that can carry the football 20-plus times per game.

After Tolbert got just three carries in the first two weeks, that should mean a massive increase in his workload—especially in goal-line and short-yardage situations.

Tolbert was one of the league's biggest touchdown vultures during his time with the San Diego Chargers, scoring 19 touchdowns the past two seasons. A similar situation could arise for Tolbert in Carolina, starting Thursday.


Simply Put, Tolbert Is a Good Running Back

During his time with the Chargers, the 26-year-old emerged as not only a goal-line threat but also one of the league's best backup running backs.

Spelling oft-injured Ryan Mathews, Tolbert went from seldom-used fullback to gaining 1,225 yards in 2010 and 2011. 

He is also one of the league's most underrated pass-catchers out of the backfield. Tolbert's 54 receptions in 2011 were the fourth most of any running back in the league, an astounding feat considering he started just one game. 

In PPR leagues, he should already be owned. However, if some unlucky soul dropped him in your league, Tolbert could have immense value going forward.

Nonetheless, considering Stewart's injury, Tolbert is worth a flier in all formats and could pay massive dividends the rest of the season.