Is Tony Pollard a Rising Fantasy Football Star?
Tony Pollard is one of the more interesting names in draft circles this offseason. Those who love him, think he’s one of the more talented running backs in the league. Those that aren’t on Pollard’s band wagon recognize he’s still playing behind one of the best fantasy running backs over the last five seasons. So, who is right?
Like most things, the answer lies somewhere in the middle. There’s no denying the talent he has displayed or the efficiency he’s flashed. It’s also true his upside is capped for as long as Elliott remains healthy and in Dallas.
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Pollars is currently being drafted as the RB28 on Underdog, which is exactly where he finished in half-PPR scoring last season. His 9.5 PPG average, however, ranked RB36. The Cowboys' offense will look a bit different than fantasy managers are used to after the trade of Amari Cooper to the Browns. How will Pollard fit into this new-look attack?
Tony Pollard’s Tantalizing Skillset
The former Memphis Tiger is entering his fourth year in the NFL and he’s gotten better each season. In his rookie season, he finished with 101 total touches and 562 scrimmage yards, which consisted of 15 receptions. Entering his sophomore season, his role grew and he received an additional 28 touches 13 of which were receptions. His third season, however, was when he truly broke out.
Tony Pollard has seen his rushing attempts, rushing yards, targets, receptions and receiving yards increase every year of his NFL career so far.
— Nathan Jahnke (@PFF_NateJahnke) June 9, 2022
In 2021, Pollard saw 130 carries, up from 101 in his second year. Not only did his workload increase, but his production did too. He went from 435 rushing yards to 719. His yards per game jumped up by more than 20 yards. He didn't just show improvement with his rushing ability, but he was used in the passing game more. In his rookie season, Pollard had just 20 targets, but that doubled in his second season. In Year 3, he went up again to 46 targets. Just like his rushing efficiency jumped in his third year, so did his receiving stat line.
Despite receiving just six more targets from 2020 to 2021, his receiving yards jumped from 193 yards to 337. It wasn't just that—he had the longest carries and receptions of his career last season and racked up the most rushing and receiving first downs. Pollard set career-highs across the board and his efficiency metrics jumped off the charts.
|Yards Per Route Run (YPRR)
|True Yards Per Carry (TYPC)
|Yards Per Touch
|Juke Rate Rank
|Breakaway Run Rate (BRR)
|Yards Created Per Touch (YCPT)
* Via PlayerProfiler
As amazing as all of those efficiency metrics look, he was only in the top-30 in juke rate and yards created per touch in 2020. This shows a significant leap, which could be taken in two ways. One, maybe he did get significantly better or maybe the lower sample size is inflating his numbers.
Despite his excellent play, his snap share didn't climb by as much as his statistics would have indicated. This is despite Ezekiel Elliott being hindered by a knee injury for the majority of the season. Despite this, Pollard's snap share climbed just 2.2%. He finished with 169 total touches, which ranked 36th among running backs. Elliott finished with 284 touches, even though his efficiency torpedoed. It's a red flag for anyone hoping that Pollard's role is going to significantly grow in 2022, as long as Elliott is healthy.
Will Tony Pollard Star in 2022?
If Pollard is to take the next step this season, he's going to need more touches. That's because fantasy managers should be expecting his efficiency to decrease in 2022 by way of simple regression to the mean.
Elliott injured his knee in Week 4. Prior to the injury, Elliott averaged 17.8 touches per game. Pollard was at 11.3. Despite Elliott's waning productivity following the injury, their touches didn't change at all. Elliott's decreased to 16.4, but Pollard's stayed exactly at 11.3. Interestingly, even during Weeks 5–18, their fantasy points per touch were identical with Elliott averaging 0.66 half-PPR points per touch and Pollardat 0.65.
The Cowboys' offense is going through some changes this offseason after trading Amari Cooper to the Browns. Michael Gallup, who now projects to be the No. 2 receiver once he's healthy, will likely miss several weeks to begin the season as he continues rehabbing a late-season torn ACL.
That lack of weaponry early could lead to Pollard being used more in the passing game. That's certainly the hope for fantasy managers. The reality is that Elliott is going to continue to be heavily involved and the early reports suggest this. Pollard will have to continue being uber-efficient because a significant increase may not be on the horizon.
— Jordan 🏈 (@JordanFootbalI) June 16, 2022
Pollard is now one of the Cowboys' most skilled players on offense and it would be silly for them not to use him more. Fantasy managers often will chase vacated targets and Dallas certainly has its fair share of those with the loss of Cedrik Wilson and Amari Cooper, but oftentimes if those positions aren't filled with competent players, the running backs take advantage.
The Lions were a perfect example last season—they lost Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones Jr. There were a ton of vacated targets in Detroit, but all of those vacated targets weren't funneled to the misfit group of receivers they banded together—they went to Swift. He finished with an 18.6% target share, which was second to only Alvin Kamara at 20.2%.
While the Cowboys have CeeDee Lamb and Dalton Schultz, the options behind these two players present significant questions. Gallup very well may not be healthy all year and as much excitement as there is around Jalen Tolbert, he's still a fifth-year player coming out of South Alabama who was drafted in the third round. It's very possible a lot of the vacated targets in Dallas end up going to the running backs and that will benefit Pollard immensely.
— Jordan 🏈 (@JordanFootbalI) June 13, 2022
He had a target rate of 34.1%, which shows the Cowboys were committed to getting him the ball when he was running routes. This was ranked third among running backs with at least 40 targets. He's currently being drafted on Underdog at an ADP of RB28, which means fantasy managers are likely expecting a slight increase in touches for Pollard after his fantastic 2021 campaign. Here at 4for4, he's ranked as the RB31, showing a little more restraint on his potential with Zeke still clearly in the driver's seat in Dallas.
While fantasy managers are best treating Pollard as a mid-level RB3, there's no denying his insane upside in the event of a Zeke injury. He is one of the best handcuffs in all of fantasy football with the added benefit of having standalone value, even if that is as an RB3 and not an RB2.
The Bottom Line
- Pollard has gotten better with each year and has seen his number of touches and targets increase each season.
- He put together one of the most efficient seasons among all running backs and made a very strong case for needing the ball more.
- The number of vacated targets in Dallas could lead to a more sizeable target share for the Dallas running backs, which would be a positive boon for Pollard's fantasy prospects.
- Despite Elliott's knee injury last season, Pollard's snap share and touches stayed almost exactly identical, indicating the coaching staff may not be willing to give him an increased role in 2022 with Elliott fully healthy.
- Pollard has immense value as one of the best handcuffs in fantasy football. If Elliott gets hurt, Pollard would become a top-10 running back and a potential league winner.
- Even if Elliott remains healthy all year, Pollard will return RB3/flex value because of his role in the passing game.