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Steering clear of Carolina's backfield

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Unlike James Taylor, fantasy owners won't be going to Carolina if they want to find fantasy viable backfield starters.

The Panthers have talent at running back with the returning DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart along with the newly acquired Mike Tolbert, but their best rusher doesn't even play the position. That distinction goes to quarterback Cam Newton, a 6-foot-5, 248-pound freak of nature who scored the second-most rushing touchdowns last season. And that's not just the second most among quarterbacks, that's overall, three behind leader LeSean McCoy's 17.

Of course, Williams, Stewart and Tolbert would each make fine fantasy players on their own. In fact, each of them has put together impact fantasy seasons before.

In 2008-09, Williams rushed for 1,515 yards and had 20 total touchdowns (18 rushing). He was a first-round draft choice the next season but only played 13 games, allowing Stewart to take over and contribute 1,133 yards and 11 touchdowns (10 rushing), including 589 yards and four touchdowns over the final five games of the season.

And though Tolbert has never eclipsed 1,000 yards in a season, he burst into the 10-yard section of the field that matters most (the end zone) 21 total times over the last two seasons with San Diego. He also was a PPR monster last season, catching 54 balls for 433 yards.

According to Panthers coach Ron Rivera, Tolbert will play fullback for Carolina this season. That would seemingly take away most of his fantasy value, but I still think if there is one Panthers back to own, it would be Tolbert.

As prolific and exciting as Newton was in his rookie season, Carolina doesn't want him putting his body at risk as much this season. I think one of the reasons the Panthers signed Tolbert was to give Newton some relief at the goal line. Nine of Newton's 14 rushing TDs came from the 6-yard line or closer, including six from one yard out. Meanwhile, 17 of Tolbert's 21 total touchdowns over the last two seasons came from eight yards or closer.

That Tolbert will be the most valuable fantasy running back from Carolina in 2012-13 actually speaks more about the decreased values of Williams and Stewart than it does about Tolbert's prowess carrying the football.

Unless one of them gets hurt, we'll be looking at an identical situation to the one we saw last season when both players stuck around for 16 games. Williams rushed for 836 yards on 155 carries and put seven balls in the end zone. He also caught 16 passes for 135 yards.

Stewart was more valuable in PPR leagues as he caught 47 balls for 413 yards to go along with his 761 yards on 142 carries and five touchdowns.

Williams and Stewart each averaged 5.4 yards per carry last season, so the Panthers have obviously figured out how to maximize the productivity of their two running backs, but that does nothing for fantasy owners.

With no fullback competition, Tolbert also may be able to stay on the field for more downs than Williams and Stewart, meaning he'll be in line for more dump- off passes from Newton.

I would prefer not to see any of these guys on my fantasy roster in the upcoming season despite Tolbert's touchdown potential. There is just two much traffic in the backfield for any one player to break free and get into the clear, and that's not even considering the opposing defenders who are going to be making tackles back there.

If I'm going to see a "CAR" next to one of my players, I want it to be Newton or resurrected wide receiver Steve Smith. Otherwise, leave the trips to Carolina to Sweet Baby James.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Thomas Harrigan at tharrigan@sportsnetwork.com.


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