It’s not often a fourth-round pick is one of the most talked about names coming into the season for a team, but that was the narrative for Tony Pollard in 2019. Coming out of Memphis, Pollard displayed a rare combination of rushing and receiving ability. In his final year, he totaled 1,010 yards from scrimmage to go with nine touchdowns. These traits led to Pollard catching the eye of many in the Cowboys spectrum early on.
To make things even more interesting, Cowboys star running back Ezekiel Elliott was in a contract holdout. There seemed to be a possibility that in Week One of the regular season the rookie Pollard could be the Cowboys starting running back.
As we all know that did not play out; Elliott returned just in time for Week One, but that did not stop Pollard from contributing in his first year. The running back ran for 455 yards on the ground, caught 15 passes for 107 yards through the air, and totaled three touchdowns.
Pollard showed off his ability to make plays in space.
His run-after-catch ability and elusiveness in the open field opened eyes.
He is hard to bring to the ground.
In fact, Pro Football Focus gave Pollard the fourth-highest running back grade out of any back in the NFL at 82.9. (Obviously it was a small sample)
Pollard also had the eighth-highest elusive rating out of any running back in football.
With all this clear ability and talent, it’s pretty hard to believe that Pollard only played 199 offensive snaps last season, that’s only 17.75% of all the offensive snaps. Not including the Cowboys last game of the regular season against Washington, there were only three games where Pollard was on the field for more than 20 snaps. Those were all blowouts, showing how the Cowboys coaches used him in 2019.
It would be an understatement to say that Pollard was misused last season, but thankfully, Dallas has a new coaching staff in town this year. You have to imagine one of the most important things the new staff would want to do is find a way to incorporate Pollard into their offense more.
One way, which we saw a tiny glimpse of last season, is two-back sets with Elliott and Pollard on the field at the same time.
***IF*** Amari Cooper can't go on Sunday, it would not shock me at all if rookie Tony Pollard is more of a factor for the #Cowboys offense. Preseason star who they've rotated in at times in 2-back sets has WR background. His versatility could be put to good use #PHIvsDAL pic.twitter.com/9U9452S34Y— Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) October 17, 2019
21 and 20 in the backfield at the same time could create nightmares for opposing defenses. With the versatile skill-sets that both possess, just showing this look could create confusion on the defense and open up mismatches. Pollard is so dynamic that Dallas needs to get him the ball any way they can. Another way to utilize him would be let him play in the slot a little. Pollard played 26 snaps in the slot in 2019, but this number could, and should, be much higher.
The former Memphis Tiger has tons of experience at the receiver position and caught 139 passes for 941 yards in his college career. Unless the Cowboys draft a receiver in the first or second round, they likely will not have a go-to slot man who needs to always be on the field. Letting Pollard take some of these reps would even more confuse defenses and let him do what he does best, make plays in space.
There is no reason that Mike McCarthy and the new Dallas coaching staff can’t find a way to get Pollard on the field for at least 20 snaps a game at minimum. A while back when the Cowboys acquired Tavon Austin, Stephen Jones referred to him as a “web back” and said they felt they could get him around 15-20 touches a game. That was never going to happen.
But whatever role they had in mind for Austin is what Tony Pollard’s role should be this season. They need to give Pollard a chance to make a real impact in the Dallas offense, and allow him to shine. It seemed like almost every time he touched the ball in 2019 something good happened. This season, it’s the coaching staff’s job to make sure he’s on the field much more.