In the absence of Ezekiel Elliott, rookie Tony Pollard is taking first-team reps. Is he the next great Dallas Cowboys running back?
Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott has yet to make an appearance at training camp, and he’s made it known he won’t be doing so until he gets the deal he’s looking for. Without Elliott on the field, all indications are that the Dallas Cowboys would be taking a huge step back.
After leading the NFL in rushing twice and totaling 4,048 rushing yards, 5,247 total yards and 34 total touchdowns in three seasons, it would be extremely hard for the Dallas Cowboys to replace the production of Elliott if he continues his holdout.
With that being said, what if they already had a replacement for Elliott on their roster?
Who could possibly replace Elliott, you ask? It might just be rookie running back Tony Pollard out of Memphis. Yes, that’s right. A rookie running back has a chance to step in and replace Elliott’s production.
Pollard has been impressive in Cowboys camp so far, recently earning himself first-team reps in Elliott’s absence. There has been nothing but high praise for the rookie, as several teammates and coaches have expressed how impressed they are with his ability to make plays.
"“One of the most exciting players, to me, of this training camp. The things he’s been able to do running the ball, catching the ball out of the backfield. He’s making plays and he’s really an intelligent dude.”Dak Prescott (via David Moore on Twitter)"
Those words come from Pollard’s quarterback, Dak Prescott.
It’s not just the high praise for Pollard that’s getting him attention. At least, it shouldn’t be.
Pollard’s college stats from his time at Memphis prove he’s a playmaker. In three seasons at Memphis, Pollard played a limited role, receiving just 243 touches (139 rushing, 104 receiving). However, Pollard was able to make the most out of the touches he did receive, totaling 941 yards rushing, 1,292 yards receiving and 2,233 total yards to go along with 18 total touchdowns.
While he was never the featured back, he was always a guy his coaches and teammates trusted to make big plays. As evidenced by his total yardage, Pollard is a guy who can make plays in more than one way, which only makes him more dangerous.
The big question here is, how could Pollard live up to Elliott’s production after playing such a limited role in college? He’s never been a starter, so how could he come in as a rookie and keep the Dallas Cowboys’ run game afloat?
The answer is simple. While it’s true Pollard didn’t receive a ton of touches in college, this next set of numbers tell us why Pollard could be the next great Dallas Cowboys running back.
In his three seasons at Memphis, Pollard averaged 6.8 yards per carry. Had he received as many carries in his three college seasons as Ezekiel Elliott did in his time at Ohio State (592), Pollard would have totaled 4,025 rushing yards. That would have been 64 more yards than Elliott had in his college career.
Will Pollard run for an average of 6.8 yards per carry in the NFL? Probably not. Elliott’s average dropped from 6.7 in college to 5.1 during his rookie reason, but my point is that Pollard is just as good as any back out there if he’s given the opportunity. With Elliott holding out, Pollard now has the opportunity he’s long been waiting for.
I’m one who hopes the Elliott holdout doesn’t drag on, turning into another Le’Veon Bell situation. However, if it does, I’m not too concerned with the Dallas Cowboys taking a huge hit to the run game.
When DeMarco Murray left the Dallas Cowboys after leading the NFL in rushing in 2014, the Cowboys found a way to replace his production after just one season. They went out and drafted Elliott with the No. 4 overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. Elliott then went on to lead the league in rushing.
One of the reasons why the Cowboys drafted Pollard in the 2019 NFL Draft was because they knew this situation with Elliott was a real possibility. They knew they needed to find a way to replace the NFL’s leading rusher if this situation arose.
If recent history of successful running backs is any indication, the Cowboys learned they didn’t have to spend a high draft pick to get a running back capable of leading their ground game, which led to the selection of Pollard in the fourth round.
Some of the recent successful running backs drafted after the first round are Kareem Hunt (Led the NFL rushing as a third round rookie), Alvin Kamara (Totaled 1,554 yards as a third round rookie and Jordan Howard (Rushed for 1,313 yards as a fifth round rookie).
After so much success from running backs drafted after the first round, I don’t see why Tony Pollard can’t be the next guy to do it with the Dallas Cowboys. Pollard is a playmaker who’ll have plenty of opportunity as long as Ezekiel Elliott remains out. If Pollard’s college numbers are any indication, with more opportunity, comes more big plays.
Although the Dallas Cowboys would be better with Elliott on the field, they’re in good hands with Pollard in the backfield. I won’t crown Pollard as the next great Dallas Cowboys running back just yet, but I will advise you to keep an eye on him if this situation with Elliott continues to drag itself out.