No, seriously this time. Is Tony Pollard better than Ezekiel Elliott?
That question started ramping up during the 2020 season when Elliott rushed for a career low. Since then, the conversation has only grown larger and larger.
If Elliott has a bad game, or fails to make a key play then fans on social media voice their wishes for Pollard to finally take over as RB1.
A lot of the hate for Elliott has to do with his monster contract relative to his level of production. The former Ohio State Buckeye is making $12.4 million this season, while Pollard is bringing in $965,000.
But is it finally time to admit that Pollard is more effective than Elliott? Let’s see how each back has been doing so far this season.
Zeke is still RB1, but should he be?
Based on the amount of snaps each player has gotten, Elliott is still the lead back in the Cowboys offense.
Through the first three games this year, Elliott has 40 rushing attempts and three receptions. Pollard has 28 carries and 10 receptions. Despite Elliott having 12 more touches on the ground, he’s only outgained Pollard by 22 yards. Elliott has 178 rushing yards while Pollard has 156 yards.
Pollard has certainly made the most of his limited number of carriers. The former Memphis Tiger has averaged 5.6 yards per attempt, the ninth-best mark in the NFL, while Elliott averages 4.5 yards per carry.
In terms of the passing game, Pollard has proven to be more valuable than Elliott in past seasons. This year has been no different.
Pollard has 69 receiving yards to Elliott’s has -5 yards. But Pollard hasn’t been as involved in the passing game compared to previous years. A majority of his receiving yards came from a 47-yard reception against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 2.
Against the New York Giants, Pollard had only one target and zero receptions.
Despite Pollard’s low usage in the running game and as a pass catcher, he seems to be more valuable than Elliott. But Elliott is more skilled in one major facet of the game.
Elliott’s pass protection has saved his job
Over his career, Pollard has been average in pass protection. But this season, he’s struggled a bit. His worst game was against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers:
Meanwhile, Elliott excels as a pass blocker. Part of it is thanks to his 6’0, 228-pound frame. Pollard is a bit smaller at 6’0, 209-pounds.
Elliott takes great pride in his ability to protect the QB. He also realizes that you can have a great game, but it doesn’t always necessarily show up on the stat sheet. Here’s a quote from Elliott during the 2021 season:
“Every play I’m given a job. My job is to do my job to the best of its ability. I take a lot of pride in being well-rounded. Blitz pickup is big for a running back. You have to keep the quarterback safe and untouched.”
Elliott and Pollard are the perfect duo
Fans will seemingly debate who the better running back is for as long as Elliott and Pollard suit up together. In reality, they’re the perfect thunder and lightning combination.
Elliott is better in short yardage and goal line situations, thanks to his heavier build. He’s also better at stuffing a blitzing linebacker or chipping on an edge rusher.
Pollard’s specialty is utilizing his speed and elusiveness to burst through gaps for big gains. He can also catch a checkdown pass out of the backfield and pick up solid yardage.
While Elliott remains RB1 in Dallas’ offense, Pollard is equally important to the team’s success. With this being the final year on Pollard’s contract with the Cowboys, we could see him sign elsewhere this offseason.
So let’s put aside the ‘who should be RB1’ debate and enjoy one of the best running back duos the NFL has to offer.