Do the Cowboys have one of the best running back units in all of football?
There’s never a dull moment in Dallas, and the Cowboys running back position has been one of the hot topics surrounding the team this offseason. Since Ezekiel Elliott signed his $90M extension back in 2019, the 26-year-old has been one of the more criticized players in football. Many believe Dallas should not have given him the deal, and Elliott’s recent dip in production makes it hard to argue that point.
To make things more complicated, the Cowboys have a very talented runner in Tony Pollard backing up Elliott, but Dallas can’t seem to find an effective way to play to both of their strengths.
Nonetheless, while many may disagree on how the snaps are distributed, there’s no denying the Cowboys have one of the more talented backfields in the NFL.
Elliott and Pollard combined to rush for 1,721 yards last season and scored 14 total touchdowns. While Pollard had over 100 fewer rushing attempts than Elliott, he still was extremely efficient in his limited playtime. In fact, Pollard finished the season with the second-best rushing grade (90.3) in football according to Pro Football Focus. (Minimum 100 rushing attempts)
(Ezekiel Elliott was playing well before his knee injury. See below.)
(5th in explosive play rate before. 54th after.)
(7th yards after contact per carry before. 45th after.) pic.twitter.com/4UkTwcYxxu
— Hayden Winks (@HaydenWinks) June 20, 2022
Pollard also averaged an impressive 5.5 Y/A on the season, the second-best in football among qualifying running backs.
— Marcus Mosher (@Marcus_Mosher) May 26, 2022
On the surface level, Dallas’ backfield is very talented, so much so that Bleacher Report ranked them as the fifth-best backfield in football entering the 2022 season.
Here’s what BR had to say about Dallas’ running back duo.
The Dallas Cowboys might have their depth chart mixed up with Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard but that doesn’t take away from the fact this is still one of the league’s most talented backfields.Ezekiel Elliott has been on the decline from an efficiency standpoint, but he’s still a productive back. He was still one of only seven backs to crack 1,000 yards rushing and averaged 4.2 yards per carry.
What saves the Cowboys ranking is the efficiency that Tony Pollard brings to the table.The third-year back was one of the most efficient backs in the league, recording 1,056 yards from scrimmage and 6.2 yards per touch on the season. Pollard finished only behind Rashaad Penny in the latter category among running backs.Pollard was difficult to bring down on first contact, too. He was sixth in the league in yards after contact per carry.This season, the Cowboys have reportedly been looking to get Pollard even more involved, playing him in the slot during OTAs. With an expanded role for Pollard, the Cowboys backfield is still a top-five unit in the league.They just don’t have the same caliber starting back as the next four teams on the list.
According to Clarence Hill of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, the Cowboys coaching staff told Tony Pollard at the end of the season they plan to utilize him more in the offense in 2022.
Stop if you have heard this offseason narrative before, only for the season to start and Ezekiel Elliott to continue to get the bulk of the load at running back and Pollard to be used in small doses. Pollard has, too. But he believes the Cowboys mean it this time. And you should, too. The coaching staff explicitly told him after the season that they planned to give him a larger role in the offense in 2022. This offseason, they have incorporated him in the schemes.
If this is indeed true, and the Cowboys can finally find an effective way to use Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard together, they certainly have a chance to live up to their rank as one of the best running back groups in football.