When Tony Pollard was drafted in the fourth round of the 2019 NFL Draft, the belief was that he could provide a change of pace counterpunch to star Ezekiel Elliott out of the backfield. The results, however, were a mixed bag throughout his first two seasons.
In 33 career games, Pollard has done most of his damage on the ground, totaling 203 carries for 1,013 yards (five YPC) and seven touchdowns. What makes Pollard special as a talent, however, is his ability to operate in open space, where he’s hauled in another 43 receptions to the tune of 300 yards and two more scores.
Tony Pollard is that dude. pic.twitter.com/70GdBhyQdF— Marcus Mosher (@Marcus_Mosher) September 20, 2021
While that’s nothing to sneeze at in a reserve running back, the opportunities have been scarce. As a rookie, he received just 18% of the total offensive snaps. In 2019, that number nearly doubled to 32%, and in two games in 2021, he’s clocking in at 28%, though that could, and probably should, change moving forward.
Against the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday, Pollard played with tremendous burst, logging 109 yards on just 13 carries (8.4 YPC) and a score. He added another three catches for 31 yards to keep the offense humming as Dallas chewed up a good Chargers defense on the ground over the course of 60 minutes.
**Touches**— Bobby Belt (@BobbyBeltTX) September 19, 2021
Ezekiel Elliott - 18
Tony Pollard - 16
**10+ yard plays**
Ezekiel Elliott - 2
Tony Pollard - 5
**Carries of 1 yard or fewer**
Ezekiel Elliott - 6
Tony Pollard - 0
Elliott may have received more carries, but just barely with 16. The result was a near 50/50 split that made the Cowboys run game as dominant as it has been at any point over the past couple of years.
After the game, Pollard explained that he just “had the hot hand,” and that if Elliott had been the one churning up yardage, he would’ve gotten more touches, though Zeke was still effective with 4.4 yards per carry on sixteen touches. He also had a key third-down conversion on a field goal drive that gave the Cowboys a 17-14 edge in the fourth quarter.
Cowboys RBs vs Chargers:— PFF Fantasy Football (@PFF_Fantasy) September 19, 2021
140 total yards
97 total yards
1 TD pic.twitter.com/yUiWkJgPd4
The difference is that when Zeke ran to the edge, he was routinely swarmed by defenders and snuffed out in the backfield. Pollard, on the other hand, continually made plays when bouncing the ball outside, bringing a greater dimension to the run game while allowing Dak Prescott to more than halve his number of pass attempts from Week 1.
Ezekiel Elliott might be a $90M running back but if results are all the matter, and he’s enough of a team player to be game-planned as an added blocker against Tampa Bay in the opener, he should be willing to split carries somewhat evenly with Pollard so long as the former Memphis hybrid back is making an impact.
Pollard has struggled to find consistency in the past but he remains a dynamic weapon in offensive coordinator Kellen Moore’s arsenal—one that he should put to good use as the team tries to keep Elliott fresh over the course of the season.