NFL Free Agency 2011 logoNFL Free Agency 2011

NFL Free Agency: Mike Tolbert and 5 Backups Who Are Ready for a Starting Role

Carlos SandovalAnalyst IIIMay 25, 2011

NFL Free Agency: Mike Tolbert and 5 Backups Who Are Ready for a Starting Role

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    SAN DIEGO, CA - DECEMBER 16:  Running back Mike Tolbert #35 of the San Diego Chargers reacts after being hit during a punt return by the San Francisco 49ers at Qualcomm Stadium on December 16, 2010 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty
    Donald Miralle/Getty Images

    With the NFL lockout continuing to slowly break us down (emotionally and, um, physically), and the draft over and done with, free agency is now front-and-center for speculation in the NFL world. 

    This year's free agency class isn't amazing. There aren't any huge names that haven't already committed to staying with their 2010 teams; however, teams could seriously find some gems if they do their research and pick up cheaper, more viable starting-lineup-worthy players. With every team more-or-less understanding what holes free agency could fill, some of last year's backup players — whether they're quarterbacks, running backs or defensive linemen — could fill those holes, and start immediately.

    So, of course, we've provided a nice little list of NFL players who were backups last year, and could look to break into a starting role this upcoming season.  

5. Mike Tolbert, San Diego Chargers

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    SAN DIEGO, CA - DECEMBER 16:  Running back Mike Tolbert #35 of the San Diego Chargers rushes with the ball against the San Francisco 49ers at Qualcomm Stadium on December 16, 2010 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)
    Donald Miralle/Getty Images

    Mike Tolbert is a restricted free-agent, sure, and the cost to pick him up is a second-round draft pick (should the lockout leave restricted free agency untouched), but I'm not so sure he isn't worth it. 

    Tolbert was a burner with the Chargers last year — the dude was quite possibly their most consistent running back all season, as he put up more yards and reached the end zone four more times, than did the supposed-full-time rookie running back Ryan Mathews. 

    Mathews was injured on and off for the entire year, and Tolbert took advantage. Because while Darren Sproles was on the field to relieve Mathews (albeit for only 50 touches), Sproles looked flighty at best, and his quickness was easily negated by opposition.

    Mike Tolbert plowed through the middle and did so with conviction, holes in the line or not. He averaged about four yards per touch, but considering he was the short-yardage back for the Bolts, that's not bad at all.

    Tolbert has his problems, though. He can get gassed pretty easily, so you shouldn't bet on him getting more than 20 touches in his current state of conditioning. 

    A team like, the Miami Dolphins, Green Bay Packers, Washington Redskins or even the Seattle Seahawks (let's face it: Marshawn Lynch has been shoddy and inconsistent his entire career, despite one epic, ground-breaking playoff run) could definitely use Tolbert's hard, head-down running to add some offensive versatility.

4. Malcom Floyd, San Diego Chargers

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    DENVER, CO - JANUARY 2:  Wide receiver Malcom Floyd #80 of the San Diego Chargers makes a one-handed 41-yard reception for a first down against cornerback Perrish Cox #32 of the Denver Broncos during the second quarter at INVESCO Field at Mile High on Jan
    Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

    Malcom Floyd is just another reason that the Chargers' inability to make the playoffs last season was so shocking. 

    Because while the Chargers relied heavily on Philip Rivers' ability to do more with less, Floyd was a reliable, down-field threat, despite being buried behind Legedu Naane and (in the latter part of the season) Vincent Jackson. 

    Floyd is horrifically athletic, and stands at 6-foot-5. He has a good sense of route-running, and his numbers back that up — he averaged nearly 20 yards per catch and hauled in six touchdowns in just 37 receptions. He has good enough speed to get past corners in deep-ball situations, and his leaping ability (coupled with his good, but not great, hands) makes him dangerous. Like, really dangerous.

    Malcom Floyd is aging, though. He's already 29-years-old, and though receivers have longer shelf-lives than do running backs, he still hasn't exploded and become a first option through the air. 

    Granted, he'll be — at the very least — an awesome slot receiver for any team, specifically the St. Louis Rams.

3. Matt Leinart, Houston Texans

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    JACKSONVILLE, FL - NOVEMBER 14:  Matt Leinart #9 of the Houston Texans looks on before a game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at EverBank Field on November 14, 2010 in Jacksonville, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    Please, don't laugh at me.

    I hate to be the guy that takes sides on an almost-always polarizing debate in the NFL world. But I don't see Matt Leinart sitting another year without some team giving him one more crack at breaking into a starting position. 

    Let's not lie to ourselves, he's still a heck of a talented player. To my knowledge, his shoulder hasn't been dislocated, and he hasn't had any major health problems (minus borderline-alcoholism, mind you). 

    What he's missing, of course, is the character and discipline of a good starting quarterback. 

    But vision-wise? I'm on the fence, because it has to be at least minimally positive to sit behind Matt Schaub — who exploded again — this past season in Houston. 

    If Leinart can ease up, get off his pedestal and is willing to compete, he'll be in that coveted starting position he's been wanting for a couple years. 

    Specifically, a team like the Cleveland Browns could use him, despite Colt McCoy's solid rookie season. 

2. Owen Daniels, Houston Texans

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    DENVER - DECEMBER 26:  Tight end Owen Daniels #81 of the Houston Texans makes a one-handed catch against cornerback Andre' Goodman #21 of the Denver Broncos during the third quarter at INVESCO Field at Mile High on December 26, 2010 in Denver, Colorado.
    Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

    OK, so Owen Daniels isn't exactly a backup. However, his role was nearly delegated to such back in 2010, and he's been so injury prone dating back to the 2009 season.

    Daniels was playing at a beastly rate before those injuries, and proved he was, at the very worst, starter-worthy at the tail end of 2010. Matt Schaub loved to throw to Daniels in the mid-range game, and Daniels continuously delivered.

    Again, the dude isn't exactly a true backup — his talent and skill level are starter-status, at the very least, but with his injuries, most teams might look at him as a backup.  

1. Caleb Hanie, QB, Chicago Bears

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    CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 23:  Quarterback Caleb Hanie #12 of the Chicago Bears looks on while taking on the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game at Soldier Field on January 23, 2011 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    Come on, guys. Stop laughing, already.

    Caleb Hanie's only been in the league since 2008, and sparingly gets time on the field, except if it's the NFC Championship, in which he gets to throw 20 times. 

    Seriously, though: Hanie's the definition of a steal. I hate to hype up a quarterback when he has had only one good game, but considering the circumstances, I'm not so sure you don't make a big deal out of his emergency performance when both Todd Collins and Jay Cutler (now you can laugh) went down in the NFC Championship game.

    Let's look at the circumstances, and the response: First, Jay Cutler was struggling terribly against the Packers all game long, despite having a solid playoff run up to that point. Then, he gets hurt (um, "hurt") and Todd Collins comes in, and, within a couple of plays, is also hurt.

    Enter Caleb Hanie, which signifies Cutler can no longer enter the game. Against the Green Bay Packers. In the game prior to the Super Bowl. While his team is down a pair of touchdowns against a defense that's been dominant at worst.

    The response? Hanie came out scary-confident, and he was somehow able to turn jitters (they were there; look at the tape again) into two touchdown passes and constant evasion of the aggressive Green Bay defense.

    He's a restricted free agent, and the Bears aren't in position to ask of the team who makes first offer, a draft pick.

    Like I said, I hate to base the upside of any one player by a single game, but considering the circumstances, teams need to see it. Seriously. 

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