Change of Space: Tony Pollard’s role as Cowboys RB may be the same, but 2021 will not be

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Tony Pollard got off to a slow start with the Cowboys. This could be because of a rookie learning curve, a coaching staff that didn’t always play younger players, the ability of the starting running back in front of him, but he just didn’t get a lot of snaps. While playing in 15 of the 16 games, his impact per game was very minimal. This brought a lot of venom coach Jason Garrett’s way. Pollard would practice all over the field in training camp. He looked like a player Kellen Moore would use as a match up player who could also bring a lightning element with speed in the run game to Elliott’s thunderous power game. It just never came together for Pollard and Garrett’s reputation of playing veterans over youth shifted the blame to him.

Special teams was the one area the Cowboys legitimately gave Pollard a chance and he did his job poorly, only averaging 17.5 yards per return, one of the worse averages in the NFL.

Year 2 for Pollard was more what the fanbase expected from him as a rookie. He only had 15 more carries, but considering how poor the OL was with all the injuries, the back up QBs getting so many games, and a defense so bad the team could hardly run because they were consistently down big, it is understandable Pollard didn’t get a giant increase. In the passing game Pollard doubled his targets and almost doubled his receptions even with the starting QB hurt most of the season. The statistics may seem similar, but that is more due to the important injuries on the offensive side of the ball than a similar usage rate for Pollard.

Whether it’s from his increased offensive reps, the change to John Fassel as ST coordinator or just more experience as an NFL returner, Pollard also improved his return game. With almost the exact same percentage of special teams snaps, Pollard more than doubled his returns, increasing his yards per attempt by a whopping 6.4 yards per kick return and more than doubled his longest return as well from only 30 all the way to 67. He clearly was making better decisions and wasn’t the deer-in-headlights returner he was as a rookie.

Now he is acclimated to Moore’s offense, has his offensive line back and fully healthy, and Dak Prescott is back. This could be the year Pollard becomes the true lethal weapon he was drafted to be. They certainly have treated him as such through the preseason, giving him the RB1 treatment while Ezekiel Elliott sat out all four games.

What will 2021 hold in store? He’s a certified weapon in a sea of more famous artillery. Coordinators are going to have to focus resources to Elliott, Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb. That anonymity within defensive gameplanning will afford him well when he gets his chances.

Our 2021 player profile countdown continues, with No. 20 Tony Pollard.

Background Details

Jersey No.: 20 Position: Running Back Height: 6-foot Weight: 210 pounds Hometown: Memphis, Tennessee High School: Melrose High School College: Memphis Draft: 2019 Round 4, No. 128 overall Acquired: Original draft pick

Mini Gallery

(AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)

(AP Photo/Daniel Kucin Jr.)

(AP Photo/Bryan Woolston)

(Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)

NFL Stats

Games

Rushing

Receiving

Total Yds

22

DAL

20

15

0

86

455

2

21

44

5.3

30.3

5.7

20

15

107

7.1

1

4

21

1.0

7.1

75.0%

5.4

101

5.6

562

3

1

3

23

DAL

20

16

2

101

435

4

23

42

4.3

27.2

6.3

40

28

193

6.9

1

9

30

1.8

12.1

70.0%

4.8

129

4.9

628

5

0

4

Player Profile

Versatility has been a word used around the Dallas Cowboys for a long time. Whether it's big men who could play up and down the line or a cornerback who could slide over to safety, the defense has always been about versatility. On offense, the team favors offensive lineman who can play center and guard, or tackle and guard. They want receivers who add special teams value. This team's love of versatility embodies what running back Tony Pollard was drafted for. In college at Memphis, Pollard brought value everywhere he possible could. In three seasons Pollard ran 139 times for 949 yards, an almost seven-yard average, and nine touchdowns. A third option as a runner behind Darrell Henderson and Patrick Taylor Jr., Pollard was even better in the passing game. He brought in 104 receptions for 1,292 yards, a 12.4 yard average and another nine scores. He was so impactful in the passing game, many draft experts questioned if he would be more valuable as a receiver coming out. As a kick returner Pollard had a 30-yard average, and a stunning seven scores in that phase; a special level of production. Now with two years of professional experience, it's only right to assume Pollard is fully engaged in his final form.

You can find Mike Crum on Twitter @cdpiglet or at Youtube on the About the Cowboys Podcast. This profile is part of our countdown series to the regular season. For the full 90-man roster, go here. For our 53-man roster prediction, go here.

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