This offseason the Dallas Cowboys completely remade their backup running back group. Two-year backup Rod Smith was not brought back by the team in free agency, and Dallas went ahead and added two rookies through the draft to strengthen the overall depth of the position.
The need to upgrade at backup running back had to be somewhat caused by how much Ezekiel Elliott was used last season. Elliott led the NFL in rushes on the season and total touches with 381. In his three-year career, despite missing six games in 2017, Elliott has touched the ball 1,003 times.
When Ezekiel Elliott is your starting running back, you want to get the ball into his hands as much as you can. But the Cowboys are mindful of how much he is working during games and wanted to add some different backup running backs. Tony Pollard is one of those backs.
The Cowboys selected Pollard out of the University of Memphis with the 128th pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. The 22-year-old played three seasons for the Tigers, doing a little bit of everything in their offense. In his junior and final year at Memphis, Pollard ran the ball 78 times for 552 yards, caught 39 passes for 458 yards, and scored 10 total touchdowns. One of these came on a kick return, and in his collegiate career, Pollard returned an extremely impressive seven kicks for touchdowns.
Pollard is a versatile back who can do many things out of the backfield. In college, he truly was the definition of a “web back.” The way Pollard was used is the way the Cowboys hoped they would be able to use Tavon Austin last season.
While at Memphis, Pollard did not get tons of carries in the running game as most of the snaps went to Darrell Henderson who was drafted by the Los Angeles Rams in the third round. In the Cowboys’ offense, he will get significantly fewer snaps than Ezekiel Elliott, but he has experience in making limited snaps count.
Due to his versatility and skill set, the rookie has received comparisons to New Orleans Saints star running back Alvin Kamara. Cowboys wide receiver Amari Cooper, who briefly played with Kamara at Alabama, says he believes the comparison between the two is a fair one.
High praise from #Cowboys WR Amari Cooper on rookie RB Tony Pollard. Cooper tells me the Alvin Kamara comparisons are fair having played with both. Sees Pollard as every down back, bigger than expected and elusive— Jane Slater (@SlaterNFL) June 5, 2019
There has been lots of hype about what Pollard can bring to the Cowboys’ offense, and Cowboys’ former Vice President of player personnel Gill Brandt believes he will be one of the most productive rookie running backs this season.
Great seeing Cowboys rookie RB Tony Pollard at the Houston autograph show today. That autograph is going to be worth a lot very soon, I suspect. I project him to be one of the top 5 most productive rookie running backs in 2019 in a column I'm writing for next week. pic.twitter.com/zxVs3GjfSa— Gil Brandt (@Gil_Brandt) June 8, 2019
Pollard gets most of the attention, but Dallas also did draft another running back in 2019. In the seventh round, the Cowboys selected Mike Weber out of Ohio State University.
Weber played three years at Ohio State and rushed for over 900 yards in two of them. In his final year in Columbus, he ran the ball 172 times for 954 yards and five touchdowns. He also caught 21 passes for 112 yards and one touchdown.
While at Ohio State Weber was a powerful and physical runner, and it shows in this quick highlight tape below.
Pollard has more flash and pure talent than Weber, but the former Buckeye is seen as an every-down back. Cowboys running back coach Gary Brown believes Weber can be a complete three-down back, and fit the mold that Dallas wants in their runners. Quote via dallascowboys.com
“He can do all three downs, as well. That’s the type of back we want to draft. We want to draft three-down guys, we don’t want to draft guys that can only play on first and second down. We want three-down guys that can protect the ball, protect the quarterback and play well in the running game.” –Gary Brown
At a big time program in college, Weber was one of the Buckeye’s most productive offensive players. His ability to play on all downs and possibly fill in if Dallas was without Elliott will be a big positive and could ultimately secure his spot on the roster.
If Weber is to make the roster, it likely means Darius Jackson will not. When Dallas made the decision to draft two running backs, it showed that they do not have much confidence in Jackson. In his three years in the NFL, Jackson has only managed to total six rushes for 16 yards.
There is no doubt Jackson has talent, and Inside the Star wrote a piece wondering if he could finally emerge in 2019, but there just are not enough spots at the table for Jackson to have a spot on the team unless there is an injury.
With Dallas almost 100% keeping a fullback in Jamize Olawale, they almost certainly will only keep three running backs. Jackson will really have to show up big in training camp and the preseason if he wants to steal away a spot on the roster. Jordan Chunn also is a running back on the Cowboys roster, but at this current moment he is going to have an even harder time than Jackson finding a spot on the team.
If Dallas does decide to go with Elliott, Pollard, and Weber, they’ll have the bell cow runner in Elliott, the versatile speedster in Pollard, and a reliable three-down backup in Weber.
With the talent at the running back position, Dallas hopefully will be able to lessen the load Elliott needs to carry early in the season. If Pollard and Weber are able to preform well early in the year, the Cowboys can save Elliott’s legs a bit and keep him fresh down the stretch of the season and into the playoffs.