Since being drafted in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft, the Dallas Cowboys have made running back Ezekiel Elliott one of the most used backs in the league. Zeke led the NFL in carries as a rookie (322) and again in 2018 (304).
In 2019, Elliott came in second in rushing attempts with 301, a mere two less than the NFL leader in carries that year, Derrick Henry of the Tennessee Titans. Last year, Zeke’s rushing attempts dropped all the way down to 244. That’s despite starting in 15 games and playing without quarterback Dak Prescott for much of the year due to suffering a season-ending ankle injury in Week Five.
That drop in carries coincided with second-year running back Tony Pollard nearly doubling his offensive snaps from his rookie season, increasing from 199 to 363 in 2020. But Pollard’s rushing attempts stay relatively the same.
A fourth-round selection out of Memphis in 2019, Pollard carried the ball 86 times in his first season in Dallas, racking up 455 yards and two scores on the ground in the process. He was also targeted 20 times through the air, recording 15 receptions for 107 yards and a score.
In his second season, Pollard’s carries only increased by a mere 15 rushing attempts despite nearly doubling his offensive snaps. He’d end his sophomore year in Dallas rushing for 435 yards and four touchdowns. But his passing targets doubled from 20 to 40 resulting in 28 catches for 193 yards and another score.
With Pollard boasting a career average of 4.8 yards per carry, and with Elliott coming off the worst season of his career averaging just 4.0 yards per rushing attempt and just 65.3 total rushing yards per game, it begs the question of whether Tony deserves more carries in 2021.
Here’s what Sam Monson wrote recently for Pro Football Focus after pointing out Pollard as the Cowboys’ most underrated player …
“The Dallas Cowboys are in a tough spot. By handing Ezekiel Elliott the contract they did, it is very difficult for them to reduce his role to the level it should be based on how Pollard has performed when given the opportunity. Since being drafted, Pollard is tied with Derrick Henry for the best yards after contact average in the league (4.0) and tied with Nick Chubb for the best broken tackle rate (0.25).”
There’s an argument to be made that Pollard is simply the perfect complement to Elliott rather than the better overall running back. Tony is the more dynamic runner at this point in Zeke’s career, with the latter being more of a power back now than a home run threat.
Still, the numbers bear out that Pollard deserves to carry more of the load in Dallas. That’s despite Elliott’s contract that’s scheduled to make a $13.7 million-sized dent in the team’s salary cap in 2021 according to spotrac.com.
Tony Pollard’s performance last year in Week 14 against the San Francisco 49ers likely opened the door for more carries this upcoming season. The 24-year old rushed for 69 yards and two touchdowns with most of those yards coming on a jaw-dropping 40-yard scoring scamper with only 2:27 left in the game. He also brought in six passes for 63 yards in the 41-33 victory.