Cowboys backup RB Tony Pollard gets highest PFF rushing grade for 2021
One of the most common debates surrounding the Dallas Cowboys is the decision to continually start an injured Ezekiel Elliott over an underappreciated Tony Pollard at running back. Elliott may be a former fourth-overall pick and a 3x Pro Bowler, but he hasn’t made a Pro Bowl since 2019 and he barely eclipsed 1,000 yards in 2021 after collecting just 979 in 2020. Pollard may be a fourth-rounder, but he has incredible speed and has steadily improved every year.
Part of the reason the Cowboys continue to put the ball in Elliott’s hands is that they hope he can get back to his ways of the past. A more significant issue the front office likely doesn’t want to discuss is that the starting running back is taking up significantly more of the payroll, with a dead cap hit of over $36 million last year.
This week, Pro Football Focus provided fans with even more reasoning to believe that Pollard deserves a chance for more snaps than given in the past. According to PFF’s unique grading system, the Cowboys’ backup running back received the highest rushing grade out of all running backs last season with a grade of 90.3. A backup grading out better than Jonathan Taylor, Dalvin Cook, Nick Chubb, and Alvin Kamara.
To compare the two Dallas running backs, Elliott’s overall PFF grade was 68.9, and Pollard’s was 86.2 (fourth-highest among all running backs in 2021).
Tony Pollard received the highest rushing grade from PFF despite being the Cowboys’ backup running back
For more context, Pollard ranks seventh amongst all NFL running backs with 2,939 all-purpose yards since 2020. Above him were, Cordarrelle Patterson (2,990), Justin Jefferson (3,032), Cooper Kupp (3,050), Kamara (3,098), Cook (3,301), and Taylor (3,639). What makes that even more impressive is how much less time Pollard got to obtain those yards. In 2021, Taylor had 768 snaps, Cook had 608, Kamara had 627, Kupp had 1,024, and Pollard had a mere 371. He’s making things happen in less time. What would happen if he was given as many snaps as Elliott (810)?
The sad reality is that Elliott is declining in his career. If he was doing wonderfully, he should continue to be fed. But the starting RB has had just 19 carries for more than 20 yards since 2019. He had 15 in 2016 alone.
The numbers paint a pretty clear picture of Pollard’s talent. He may still be on his rookie contract, but if the team is better with his ball in the hands, then why not use him? The money on Elliott is already gone. It’s understandable to want someone you have invested a lot in to perform well (like the situation with Amari Cooper), but you also have to be realistic. Who is the better running back? In 2021, it certainly seemed like Pollard.