DALLAS — Training camp is approaching for the Dallas Cowboys as the team is gearing up for their annual business trip to Oxnard, California. Although the team is currently on break from organized activities, players have continued working out in preparation for the 2022 season.
The way the Cowboys have built their team this offseason has told us how they feel about their roster. Free agency and the draft were used to fortify positions of need, but Dallas still has their strengths and weaknesses as camp draws near. With the offensive line in the process of being remade, it makes sense to take a peek at where the Cowboys stand at running back.
The ground unit for Dallas is one of the strongest positions on the roster with two-time league rushing champion Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard leading the way. Elliott is considered the starter, but Pollard is a starting caliber player, who would be the top running back on most teams throughout the league. It’s a dynamic duo that can do different things and allows the offense to perform at a high level no matter who’s in the game.
As the starter, Elliott gets the majority of the touches in the running game. Even with as good as Pollard is, and with Elliott being banged up last season, Elliott still out-carried his backfield mate by 107 carries. That’s a number that should come down this season, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see the tandem have close to equal totes.
It’s understandable why the organization wants to feed Elliott with his bloated salary cap number, but Pollard deserves more touches, and not just in the passing game. Elliott had a 4.2 yards per carry average last season, while Pollard gained 5.5 yards per carry, good for second in the league.
Pollard also excels as a pass catcher, which was his main function in college, where he caught 109 passes for nine scores in his three years at Memphis. The Cowboys haven’t used the shifty back as receiver often enough during his first three years in Dallas, but Pollard is clearly an effective option in that role.
More receptions should be on the table for 2022, as Pollard is expected to get more snaps as a receiver.
After losing wide receivers Amari Cooper and Cedrick Wilson, Pollard makes for an excellent option in the passing game. It also makes sense to integrate Pollard as a pass catcher as the Cowboys await Michael Gallup’s return from injury. There aren’t many defenders in the NFL who should be able to keep up with Pollard in the open field.
Using Pollard as a receiver and getting him on the field more shouldn’t diminish what Elliott can do. Elliott grinded out a 1,000-yard season in 2021 after playing most of the campaign on a partially torn knee. When healthy, the veteran runner out of Ohio St. looked like he was heading for a huge season early on. Elliott had three games with over 95 yards rushing in the first five weeks, proving that he can still be one of the better backs in the league before his injury slowed him down.
Playing banged up, Elliott still managed to score 12 touchdowns while gritting out 284 touches. Elliott also does a lot of the dirty work and gets the ugly yards. There’s no better extra blocker at the position on the roster than Elliott and when the offense needs to move the chains, they turn to No. 21. Those key short yardage first down runs that Elliott collects don’t pad the box score numbers, but they help Dallas offense.
Healthy again this offseason, and back in prime shape, Elliott has the look of an running back who could be back to being one of the premier options in the game.
Individually, both Elliott and Pollard are very good running backs, but combined they are an elite tandem. No matter the roles that the Cowboys have planned for them in 2022, the team is in great shape with them atop their depth charts.
Behind Elliott and Pollard, the Cowboys don’t have a player of their caliber, but the team does have young talent. Third-year running back Rico Dowdle – who missed all last year with a hip injury – and second-year runner JaQuan Hardy, are both options for the Cowboys when the top two backs need a breather. It’s hard to envision both making the 53-man roster initially, but the team does like both running backs.
The Cowboys have a deep group of running backs, highlighted by two stars. Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard lead the way as one of the best one-two punches in the league. Expect the offense to use them early and often in the upcoming season.
Do you think the Cowboys will be able to run the ball effectively in 2022? Share your thoughts with Ben on Twitter @BenGrimaldi.