The San Diego Chargers would sign Mike Tolbert as an undrafted free agent in April of 2008 out of Coastal Carolina, where he had averaged over 6 yards per carry, scored a total of 22 touchdowns and put up an impressive 291 yards receiving during his college career. He would toil behind LaDainian Tomlinson in his first two seasons in the league, making his name as a special teams player. Even as a part time contributor in his first two years, Tolbert managed to amass 185 yards rushing on 38 carries with a touchdown and continue to flash his skills as a receiving threat by totaling 30 receptions for over 363 yards and 3 touchdowns. Tomlinson would depart San Diego for New York prior to the 2010 season and Tolbert would finally get the opportunity to be a regular part of the San Diego running back rotation. As with anything he has accomplished in his days in the NFL, Tolbert would have to earn his touches as the Chargers would draft Ryan Mathews in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft. The rookie out of Fresno State would struggle with a high ankle sprain throughout the season, missing a total of 4 games, allowing Tolbert the playing time to strut his stuff. Tolbert would seize the opportunity, finishing the 2010 season with over 950 yards from scrimmage, 11 rushing touchdowns and a receiving score. The bowling ball from Coastal Carolina averaged 4 yards per carry and 8.6 yards per reception while establishing himself as a solid fantasy option in the San Diego backfield. The Chargers would continue to utilize both Tolbert and Mathews during the 2011 season, but Mathews would cement his hold on the number one running back position and receive 101 more carries than Tolbert. Tolbert would continue to produce as a third down specialist as well as an effective goal line option in the San Diego offense. He finished the 2011 season with 925 total yards from scrimmage and 10 touchdowns and for the second consecutive season finished as a top 25- fantasy running back. As an unrestricted free agent heading into the 2012 season, Mike Tolbert had the world as his oyster and would be able to sign with any team he desired.
As fantasy owners awaited the decision as to where Tolbert would take his versatile skill set for the 2012 season, many favorable destinations came to mind. The Detroit Lions could use a healthy running back with above average pass protection skills and hands like a receiver. Pittsburgh would be a nice landing spot as Isaac Redman could use a complementary running back as he prepares to make the leap to number one running back for the Steelers. Tampa Bay would be ideal (keep in mind, Tolbert hit the market in March prior to the NFL Draft), as LeGarrette Blount struggled in his second season and quarterback Josh Freeman could use a reliable receiving option out of the backfield. The possibilities of where Tolbert could land and the implications of his fantasy value heading forward were absolutely intoxicating for fantasy football enthusiasts.
Well, as the old saying goes, that was then, and this is now. In what can only be described as a surprising move, Mike Tolbert would sign a four-year $8.4 million dollar contract with the Carolina Panthers. Carolina? Really? The Panthers already boast a duo of running backs that finished the 2011 season as top 30 fantasy scorers in both standard as well as PPR formats in DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart . Immediately after the signing there were many rumors that Carolina brought Tolbert on board to free up the option to trade Stewart, who will be a free agent following the 2012 season. OK, that makes sense, takes a little of the mystery out of the signing and makes solid football sense. Not so fast. Carolina would not be trading Stewart after all and to make matters even worse, are now going to utilize Tolbert as their main fullback option for 2012. Fullback? Really? One of the two most curious signings of the off-season just got even more confusing (I'm looking at you Minnesota and John Carlson) as Tolbert will now be expected to use his 5'9", 243lbs, to pave the way for incumbents Williams and Stewart? Color me skeptical, and I would continue to monitor the news for that impending deal that would net the Panthers a high draft pick and send Jonathan Stewart to a running back starved franchise. As a fantasy owner this signing did not make sense and there had to be another shoe dropping soon, didn't there? Nope. As it turns out there are still some men out there who value certain things more than money and Mike Tolbert is just such a man. It would be revealed that he took $1 million less than the Chargers had offered to retain his services to sign with the Panthers. The reason for this was simple, "I just wanted to raise my daughter in the South." Tolbert would say. "I just think this is a better place to raise a family." Wow. No wonder that as a fantasy football columnist as well as owner, I had struggled so much to figure out this signing. It was made in reality, based on the best interest of his family, not in the "Show me the money" realm of today's NFL, and also a head scratcher in the 'how many stats can he put up?' world of fantasy football. Novel idea Mr. Tolbert and I tip my proverbial cap to you, sir.
OK, so now that we have ascertained the 'why' behind the decision Tolbert made in taking less money and what is certainly going to be a lesser role to sign with the Carolina Panthers, we can evaluate the fantasy worthiness he has moving forward. The Carolina Panthers ran the ball 445 times in 2011, Williams led the way with 155 carries, next up was Stewart carrying the ball 142 times and Cam Newton would pitch in with 126 carries of his own. Combined, the trio would punch in 25 rushing touchdowns last season, with Newton putting up the lion's share with 14. That does not leave a lot of touches for Tolbert. While there is some talk that he could ascend to being the goal line option for the Panthers, the more likely scenario is that he will be plowing the way for Stewart or Williams at the goal line. Head coach Ron Rivera has a familiarity with Tolbert dating back to the years they spent together in San Diego, and insists the switch to fullback is a permanent one for Carolina, "Everybody keeps saying he's a tailback, but he's a fullback to us. Because again, we see how we had used him in San Diego. We just thought this is a guy we'd love to have…If you can put an athletic, play-making fullback there, I think it helps you." No mention of possibly using him as a goal line option and Tolbert himself has spoken to his role in off-season workouts as consisting of, "a lot of fullback stuff." There it is folks. In the 2012 season, Mike Tolbert will be doing a lot of fullback stuff and possibly see some action as a third down, receiving option out of the backfield for Carolina. That role is not even safe as Jonathan Stewart caught a career high 47 passes last season, while Williams chipped in 16 receptions of his own. Not exactly a team desperate for another receiving threat from the running back position.
Mike Tolbert is an ultra-versatile running back, has amassed over 2,240 total yards from scrimmage, 109 receptions and scored 26 touchdowns during his 4 years in the league. Yet, none of those statistics come into play for the 2012 fantasy football season, where Tolbert will be maintaining his role as the full back for the Carolina Panthers. He may have been brought in as insurance to step up for an injured Stewart or Williams should they go down this season, or as the 2013 replacement for Stewart if the Panthers decide to let him walk via free agency. As things stand regarding Mike Tolbert right now, there is no reason to draft a fullback to be on your fantasy roster. Mike Tolbert is NOT WORTHY of being selected in 12 team fantasy leagues.