Playing to both players strengths will be a key to the Cowboys success in 2022.
Since entering the league as the fourth overall pick in 2016, Ezekiel Elliott has been consistently regarded as one of the top running backs in the NFL. Recently, there was an anonymous vote by executives, scouts, and coacheswhere Elliott’s name was not listed in the top ten. This simply adds more fuel to the narrative by many other media pundits and fans that Elliott isn’t considered an elite running back anymore. In addition to this chatter, many folks don’t even consider him the number one back on his own team, the Dallas Cowboys. All this talk is a simple overreaction to a down year in 2021 due to a partially torn PCL in his knee.
Before the injury occurred in week four, Zeke was off to a solid start as he averaged over 5.3 yards a carry and averaged one touchdown a game. His rushing yards per game was at 85.5, and doing the math in a 17 game season, would’ve brought his total to 1,454 yards. The total of 1,454 yards would’ve put him second in the league behind Jonathan Taylor for the NFL rushing crown. His average of 5.3 yards a carry would’ve put him behind his backfield running mate Tony Pollard, for ninth in the NFL. Both numbers averaged out over a full season would be considered elite by most people around the league.
Unfortunately for Zeke in 2021, after the injury there was a significant drop in production. Even with the knee issue, he still gutted it out and not only started all 17 games, but reached over 1,000 yards in the process. Even with one good knee he also averaged a solid 4.2 yards a carry which happens to be slightly higher than two players ranked by those same folks in the ESPN article as top ten backs, Joe Mixon and Najee Harris.
As for Tony Pollard, there isn’t much of a conversation that needs to be had. From a statistical perspective between both Pollard and Zeke, Elliott carried the ball 65% of the time and Pollard picked up the remaining 35% of the workload. Although Elliott carried the ball 2/3 of the time, and Pollard 1/3, it’s actually a good balance considering Pollard’s receiving ability. Speaking of his receiving skills, it was reported recently at OTA’s that he was getting work in at wide receiver. That’s the other piece of the puzzle that needs to be utilized by the Cowboys offense.
For the three seasons Pollard played at the University of Memphis, he was top three in receptions all while playing running back. When he entered the league as a fourth-round pick in 2019, he was already a known commodity as a pass catcher who could also run the ball. It would make a lot of sense for Dallas to use him consistently as a receiver given the question marks at the wide receiver position currently.
By using him in this role, it fills a hole in the receiver room while also keeping both him and Elliott on the field at the same time. This also would be an ideal role for Pollard due to his dynamic ability with the ball in his hands while also protecting him being overused in the backfield where his pass protection can be a liability at times.
Cowboys offensive coordinator Kellen Moore should be able to utilize both Elliott and Pollard in a way where both players are on the field at the same time, By keeping Elliott in the backfield, with Pollard split out as a wide receiver, this can make Dallas more dynamic on offense. Regardless of contracts, and what each player makes respectively, rolling out Elliott in the backfield and Pollard out wide would be the best course of action. In addition to this, by giving Elliott 2/3 of the carries and Pollard 1/3 of the carries, it will keep both players sharp, fresh, and more importantly, give the Cowboys the best chance to have them available and effective all season long.