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Cowboys RB Tony Pollard seeing more usage so far than Ezekiel Elliott did at start of most seasons

The Cowboys are working Tony Pollard quite a bit.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Arizona Cardinals Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Cowboys are not afraid to use a running back a lot when they are in a contract year with the team. It was nine years ago when Dallas gave DeMarco Murray all sorts of work, a usage rate that he turned into an NFL rushing crown (with a rookie named Zack Martin helping to lead the way of course). Ezekiel Elliott never reached a true contract year with the team, but we know that Dallas as a whole was not shy about putting a lot on his plate either.

As things stand in our current moment, the Cowboys are three games into the 2023 season and three games into the second contract year in a row for running back Tony Pollard. Obviously last year was the final one of Pollard’s rookie deal and this one is his franchise tag season, a value just south of $11 million.

Pollard has never hit 200 carries in a season, although he did have 232 total touches last year while putting together a campaign that made Dallas want to see more which led to the tag. It appears that the Cowboys are focused on getting the most bang for their buck, given that they are using Pollard at a pretty high frequency.

The Cowboys are currently using Tony Pollard through three games more than almost every Ezekiel Elliott season

Life on the 2023 season is still very young, but we have three games at our disposal to take a look at and each of them has featured the Cowboys wanting to run the ball to a heavy degree. Obviously that has involved Tony Pollard at a great rate.

Today we are looking at his rate specifically across all three contests. So far this season, Pollard has 62 carries and 12 receptions for a total of 74 touches.

If you did not know, Pollard leads the NFL through three weeks in terms of touches, and is averaging almost 25 per game. The conversation about what he can potentially withstand has always been a thing, but putting that to the side, it is worth noting that this seems to be a lot given that the Cowboys themselves reportedly wanted him to see 18-20 touches in the season opener. They are averaging north of that as noted.

Coming off of a career-high in carries against the New York Jets, last week we talked about Pollard’s usage through two games relative to his predecessor Ezekiel Elliott who will coincidentally be on the opposite side of the field this week. Another week in we are doing the same thing and as you can see only 2016 Zeke had more work through three games than Pollard does now.

2023 Tony Pollard usage compared to Ezekiel Elliott (and 2014 DeMarco Murray)

Through 3 Games Carries Receptions Total Touches
Through 3 Games Carries Receptions Total Touches
2023 Tony Pollard 62 12 74
2022 Ezekiel Elliott 40 3 43
2021 Ezekiel Elliott 44 7 51
2020 Ezekiel Elliott 58 15 73
2019 Ezekiel Elliott 55 5 60
2018 Ezekiel Elliott 48 11 59
2017 Ezekiel Elliott 55 12 67
2016 Ezekiel Elliott 71 5 76
2014 DeMarco Murray 75 8 83
2023 Tony Pollard usage compared to Ezekiel Elliott (and 2014 DeMarco Murray) Data courtesy of Stathead

For a bit of giggles I decided to throw in 2014 DeMarco Murray to the mix just to see exactly how much work it was. Obviously he takes the cake.

But Pollard is seeing an enormous amount of work in the small sample size that is three games and is on pace for over 350 carries, and that does not even include his potential work in the passing game. Mike McCarthy always notes how the Cowboys look at workload and analyze it in the name of keeping players fresh, well it might be time for the team to incorporate Rico Dowdle and/or Deuce Vaughn a bit more in the name of offering Pollard a chance to rest up.

It is fair to note that over the first two weeks of the season that the Cowboys had bigger leads and they wanted to drain the clock, but it’s not like Pollard did not get a ton of work last week in Arizona where Dallas trailed the entire time. Pollard had 23 carries in the loss, to the tune of 122 rushing yards, and did so behind an offensive line missing three starters.

Time will tell if the Cowboys will continue this workload for Pollard.

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