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NFL Draft

Why Tony Pollard Deserves Larger Role In Cowboys Offense

  • The Draft Network
  • July 1, 2021
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As seasons progress and teams endure the concurrent ups and downs of each campaign, the fact has become that a lack of success has valiantly ushered in skepticism and doubts toward a club’s present roster. And in 2020, that was certainly the case for the Dallas Cowboys. 

High-priced talent and headline-grabbing presences haven’t been uncommon in Dallas’ illustrious history. In fact, it's a recurring stance for the Cowboys on an annual basis to head into the fall leaning on the shoulders of those individual talents to win on paper before attempting to garner victory on Sunday. Often labeled as the victors of the NFC East prior to each and every season to earn views and clicks from outside media circles, you’d be far-fetched to find the dissected truth into one of football’s most questionable rosters and inherent position battles as camp arrives.

Running back Ezekiel Elliott has become a household name since his days as an Ohio State Buckeye. A unique talent blessed 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, leading 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. And while a handful of seasons have now come and gone since his dynamic first campaign, that’s not to say Elliott no longer possesses the skill set to return to All-Pro form, but rather that the arrival of Tony Pollard should in fact diminish his role.

A third-year product out of Memphis, 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 a large discovery that Dallas, the league’s 16th-best rushing team last fall, should look to prioritize Pollard considering Elliott’s downward trend of play and the team’s aging front five. Often looked upon as a change of pace back to spell Elliott on third down, Pollard 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 concepts.

Last season, whichever way you want to put it, it was Pollard who proved to be Dallas’ most reliable and “bang for your buck” talent within the Cowboys backfield. Ranked second among 63 qualified ball-carriers in 2020 with an elusiveness rating of 82.2 (Elliott ranked 31st), Pollard’s substandard total of 485 yards won’t open any eyes, but his innate ability to create from within and explode beyond the line could be the key to Dallas’ offense with Dak Prescott back under center. 

A healthy front five will surely help, but so will taking care of the football. Elliott, one of the league’s most fumble-prone ball carriers, hasn't done himself any favors following a year in which he totaled career lows in most major rushing categories and a career-high in fumbles with six, tops in football. If you haven’t been made aware, the NFL runs on a “what have you done for me lately” mindset, highlighting recent production over elongated periods of success. If OTAs have provided any glimpse into Dallas’ offense, Pollard could be in line for a massive jump in workload.

Following multiple reports of Pollard working with the starting unit as RB1, Pollard has been seen taking snaps at both receiver and as the team’s punt returner during spring workouts. Appearing on just 18% of Dallas’ offensive snaps in 2019, Pollard’s total rose to roughly 32% in 2020, a trend on an exponential rise where it’s difficult to classify him as just a gimmick third-down scatback as we head into 2021. 

By no means has Elliott become an afterthought in the offensive game plan for the Cowboys—he surely remains a centerpiece of their offensive scheme. However, as Pollard continues to impress and diversify his skill set, Dallas has shown their cards in that their path to representing the division’s top offensive unit could, and should, lean on Pollard’s increased production.

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