When Ezekiel Elliott first came into the league in 2016, he was instantly the best running back in the NFL. He led the league in rushing attempts (322), rushing yards (1,631), and rush yards per game (108.7). After missing time due to a suspension in 2017, Elliott went to back-to-back Pro Bowls and rushed for 1,000+ yards in 2018 and 2019. His production has fallen off since then, however, resulting in the worst two years of his career in 2020 and 2021.
Drafted in 2019, Tony Pollard has been Elliott’s backup for the last three seasons. Last season was easily the best of his career, as he finished with personal bests in just about every category. When Elliott wasn’t 100% healthy, Pollard came in and dominated.
The Dallas Cowboys made the playoffs last season after missing out during the previous two years, and Pollard played a significant role in their NFC East title. If the Cowboys want to continue their winning ways, giving Pollard an expanded role is the way to do it.
It’s Pollard’s Time to Shine
Taking a Look at Last Season
With Elliott having back-to-back down years, Pollard’s workload has grown.
In 2020, he had 101 carries for 435 rushing yards and four touchdowns, averaging 4.3 yards per carry. He also added 28 catches for 193 receiving yards and a touchdown. In 2021, Pollard’s touches increased significantly. He carried the ball 130 times for 719 yards and two touchdowns on the ground while hauling in 39 receptions for 337 yards. His 5.5 yards per carry ranked fifth among running backs.
Elliott still had more carries and catches as the Cowboys’ No. 1 RB, but Pollard was more efficient. If Pollard had the same rushing attempts as Elliott, he would have finished with 1,311 rushing yards. Pollard also had 50 more receiving yards on eight fewer catches.
Granted, Elliott was dealing with lingering knee and ankle injuries all season long, including a partially torn PCL since Week 4. But why would Dallas allow Elliott to play through it if they have Pollard? Elliott had 809 offensive snaps while Pollard only had 374.
Looking Forward to 2022
Pollard can do it all for the Cowboys. He can run, catch, and even return kicks, as he had 489 kick return yards and one touchdown last season. Pollard would be the starting running back on half of the teams in the NFL.
During OTAs, Pollard has also been getting more reps at wide receiver. It’s expected that his touches will increase in 2022, and he’s said that he’s “open to anything.”
Lining up Pollard at wide receiver would be a smart move for Dallas. He has good size and speed, making him a perfect fit in the slot. With the Cowboys moving on from Amari Cooper this offseason, there’s an opening in the wide receiver room that Pollard can fill. The Cowboys need to have him on the field as much as possible, and with Elliott the clear RB1, Pollard can have a hybrid running back/wide receiver role.
Dallas was 8-1 last year in games where Pollard had at least 10 rushing attempts. In games where Pollard played but had less than 10 touches, they were 2-4. The Cowboys are more successful when Pollard has the ball in his hands.