At six feet, 209 pounds and 26 years of age, Dallas Cowboys running back Tony Pollard is smack in the middle of his prime. He’s one of the most exciting backs in the game, an electric dual threat who can beat you as both a pure rusher and pass-catcher.
So why might I foresee a regression without Ezekiel Elliott around?
Bellcows aren’t really a thing anymore
Really, take a look around: Derrick Henry is a traditional bellcow, sure. Saquon Barkley and Josh Jacobs are right there in that category, too. But even when you look at Nick Chubb – who is, in my opinion, the most-hyped and highest-ranked RB in all of social media — even he ceded work to Kareem Hunt in recent seasons. Bellcows basically aren’t a thing anymore, so why are the Cowboys starting now with Pollard?
My issue is practical: Why let Pollard take so many hits? NFL teams are moving away from bellcow situations because modern defenders are too fast, too strong and too physical. Running backs always had a short lifespan in this league, but now it’s even worse when guys get force-fed (like Todd Gurley) in recent years. Personally, I think there’s a lot of merit to two and three-back systems these days.
A fresh Pollard is the best Pollard
Just look at the pure numbers: 2022 represented career highs for Pollard in rushing yards (1,007), rushing touchdowns (nine), targets (55), receiving yards (371) and receiving touchdowns (three). Still, even with all that production, Pollard was under 200 carries at 193. His usage by the Cowboys was near-perfect.
Now, you take the physical buffer of Zeke away, and I have to assume Pollard goes to at least 250 carries, probably more. Do we even know this will be good for him? He doesn’t present as a particularly big or powerful running back, so why risk his explosiveness by exposing him to more physical damage?
Jerry Jones, Mike McCarthy and the Dallas Cowboys would be better served to just look around: Right there in their division, the Philadelphia Eagles are deploying D’Andre Swift, Rashaad Penny, Kenneth Gainwell and Boston Scott at running back, and I love it. Who has the hot hand? Who has the fresh legs? Who needs a week or two off from action to recover physically?
Who can we take in Pollard’s area of fantasy drafts?
Of course, I’ll have some fantasy shares of Pollard because he’s an excellent player in a vacuum. Even if I don’t agree with Dallas’ plans for his usage, he could still succeed on pure talent alone. Still, in his area – currently the RB7 in ADP — where else can we go?
How about Henry, currently the RB8, who is probably the most consistent running back of his generation? What about two-way threat Rhamondre Stevenson (currently RB9), who will probably get more help from Pierre Strong and Ty Montgomery in his backfield than Pollard will get from his backups?
Most importantly, what about Jacobs? How the heck is he going as the RB10 off draft boards? It’s ridiculous. Head coach Josh McDaniels did an excellent job with Jacobs’ usage last season, as he’s essentially the polar opposite of Pollard: Jacobs is better when you give him more, more, more carries. He rolls downhill with a head of steam. He needs to eat, and he needs to get his legs churning over the course of a long game.
In the end, I’ll still have some shares of Pollard, but I have him around the RB10 or 11, as opposed to the early grabs he is getting at 7.
John Frascella is a published sports author who has been covering the NFL for 19 years. Follow him on Twitter @LegendSports7 for all things fantasy football, basketball and baseball throughout the year.