It’s business as usual on the Cowboys’ running back depth chart with Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard tag-teaming the backfield attack this season.
Since Pollard’s rookie season in 2019, the two have led Dallas in rushing each season. The consistent production from the backs has made them arguably the best 1-2 combination in the NFL.
But Cowboys fans may be seeing some fresh faces taking hand-offs from Dak Prescott after 2022.
Here is an early look at the official depth chart for the Cowboys, followed by some key storylines:
- RB1: Ezekiel Elliott
- RB2: Tony Pollard
- RB3: Rico Dowdle
Tony Pollard entering a contract year
The Cowboys have been getting tremendous value from Pollard, a fourth round draft pick in 2018.
But this is the last year of Pollard’s rookie contract, meaning he should have plenty of motivation to top the career highs he set in total rushing and receiving yards in 2021.
He did get extra touches because of the lingering knee injury Elliott was dealing with throughout the season, but having depth at running back is valuable as the nature of the position leads to more injuries than others.
But with the amount of money the Cowboys have invested in the running back room, they may find more value in finding a cheaper replacement for Pollard rather than paying him what he’s worth after this season.
Zeke’s monster deal impacting depth
In 2019, Elliott signed a six-year, $90 million contract extension. At the time, it was the biggest deal for any running back in the NFL.
But since that 2019 season, Elliott’s numbers have continued declining and his play hasn’t matched the value of his contract.
This bad contract along with some others will hurt the Cowboys’ ability to extend current players and sign free agents. Even if Dallas wanted to cut Elliott before his contract expires, it would cost about $12 million in dead cap space after the 2022 season.
While Pollard is certainly worth higher pay, he may be a casualty of the bad contracts Dallas has on the books and he could be suiting up for a different team next year.
Who could replace Pollard?
Corey Clement was Dallas’ third option at running back in 2021, but he was only getting about two carries per game. But Clement is no longer in Dallas, as he’s currently a free agent. So a new back will have to come in and earn the role of RB3.
Dallas didn’t draft any running backs, but they did sign undrafted free agents Malik Davis from the University of Florida and Aaron Shampklin from Harvard University. Rico Dowdle, who got seven carries for the Cowboys in 2020, is also in the mix.
Despite the lack of previous inexperience, one of these players can make an impression in training camp and preseason games, and earn a spot on the team. Otherwise, Dallas may have to explore free agency to find a viable third option at running back.
Is Zeke still a reliable fantasy option?
Despite Elliott leaving more to be desired in terms of production in 2021, he still rushed for 10 touchdowns and caught two more. This tied him for sixth amongst running backs in terms of rushing touchdowns.
If he can return back in 2022 without knee issues and continue having a nose for the endzone, he could be a solid RB2 option even if his production in terms of rushing and receiving yards doesn’t pick back up.