Another summer, another year in which expectations have increased for Dallas Cowboys running back Tony Pollard. After a year of being under utilized for the Cowboys, 2022 should, and could, finally be Pollard’s breakout campaign.
High-priced talent hasn’t been uncommon in Dallas’ illustrious history. In fact, it’s a recurring theme for the Cowboys to rely on those individual talents to win on paper before ever taking the field each fall. They are often labeled as the victors of the NFC East prior to each season to earn views and clicks from media circles but it’s fair to say questions regarding the roster and specific position groups remain – especially this season.
Running back Ezekiel Elliott has become a household name since his days as an Ohio State Buckeye and with a sizzling combo of power and agility, the 2016 All-Pro didn’t take long to make his name as one of the NFL’s premier backs. He led the league in attempts (322), yards (1,631) and yards per game (108.7) as a 21-year-old rookie. Granted, Elliott was provided the opportunity to run behind one of the league’s top offensive lines, but let’s not sway off track—Elliott was special in 2016. Going into 2022, it’s not that Elliott’s projected mid-level production is a result of no longer possessing the skillset to return to All-Pro form, but rather that the presence of Pollard should in fact diminish his role.
A fourth-year product out of Memphis, Tony Pollard has received little work compared to the load Elliott has been tasked with the last couple of seasons. However, in that small sample size has come the discovery that Dallas has their bellcow of the future, considering Elliott’s downward trend of play. Plus, with the team’s rebuilt front five and rookie Tyler Smith slated to start at left guard. Often looked upon as a change of pace on third down, Pollard now has the chance to trump Elliott’s production if offered the required workload to showcase his ability both in the run game and as a receiver on passing downs.
The 2020 season – whatever way you want to put it – proved to be the tea leaves of Tony Pollard’s potential success with increased touches. Dallas’ most “bang for your buck” talent within the Cowboys backfield, he ranked second among 63 qualified ball-carriers with an elusiveness rating of 82.2 (Elliott ranked 31st), and while his substandard total of 485 yards failed to open any eyes, his innate ability to create from inside the tackles and explode beyond the line could be the key this fall.
If you haven’t been made aware, the NFL runs on a “what have you done for me lately” mantra, highlighting recent production over elongated periods of success. While Elliott surpassed the 1,000-yard rushing plateau in 2021, Pollard’s uptick in work could form a true two-headed backfield for teams to counter. After failing to amass over 460 yards on the ground in each of his first two seasons, Pollard rushed for 719 yards on a career-high 130 carries (5.5 yards per carry) that also included 39 receptions for 337 yards (8.6 yards per reception) through the air last season. Following multiple reports of Pollard working with the starting unit in OTAs, the former Memphis standout has been seen taking increased snaps at receiver during spring workouts. Appearing on just 18% of Dallas’ offensive snaps in 2019, Pollard’s total rose to roughly 32% in 2020 and 35% in 2021, which makes it difficult to classify him as just a gimmick third-down back.
Additionally, Amari Cooper (Cleveland Browns) and Cedrick Wilson Jr. (Miami Dolphins) gone, Offensive Coordinator Kellen Moore should do everything in his power to allot a significant amount of snaps in whatever way possible to one of the most misused weapons in football. While money talks in the NFL, so does production, and Pollard should receive every chance possible to truly blossom this fall.
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