The Fantasy Football Impact of Tony Pollard to the Tennessee Titans

Mar 11, 2024
The Fantasy Impact of Tony Pollard to the Titans

On Monday, March 11th, it was announced that Tony Pollard would be finding his new home with the Tennessee Titans on a three-year, $24 million deal. The former Memphis Tiger and Dallas Cowboy will have big shoes to fill as he heads into his sixth NFL season, attempting to ease the loss of long-time Titans great Derrick Henry.

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Tony Pollard’s Running Back Profile

The entirety of Pollard’s five professional years has been spent with Dallas. During most of 2019-2022, he was the “lightning” to Ezekiel Elliott’s “thunder,” regularly finishing near the top of the league in yards after contact (YCO/A) and breakaway percentage. Whether spelling Elliott as a between-the-20s runner or operating as a pass-catcher out of the backfield, fantasy managers spent those years dreaming of the day that the Cowboys brass would come to their senses and flip the backfield’s usage.

Hungry fantasy managers were correct in assessing Elliott’s ever-lessening effectiveness on a down-by-down basis, but when Pollard finally got the opportunity to carry the lion’s share of the workload, the outcome wasn’t as positive as we might have imagined.

Tony Pollard Career Stats
Year G GS Att. Rush Yards Rec. Rec Yards Scores Half-PPR FP/G FP/G Rank
2019 15 0 86 455 15 107 3 5.4 RB65
2020 16 2 101 435 28 193 5 6.7 RB55
2021 15 0 130 719 39 337 2 9.1 RB39
2022 16 4 193 1007 39 371 12 14.3 RB9
2023 17 17 252 1005 55 311 6 11.5 RB22

The eventual 2023 bellcow role ended up producing mixed results. While an RB22 finish on the season wasn’t a negative in and of itself, how Pollard got there was less-than-stellar. He was afforded the seventh-highest snap share in the NFL (70.5%) yet finished with -32.2 expected fantasy points, the sixth-worst mark at the position, leading to his finish as a low-end RB2.

His once mouth-watering YCO/A mark fell from 3.76 to 2.86 in one short year, dropping from the third-best mark in 2022 to 32nd place in 2023. A large part of that was due to a forced-missed tackle rate that also precipitously dropped from 20.2% to 14.7% before and after his role change.

Pollard will need more of that spark he provided earlier in his career if we’re expected to get excited in fantasy circles.

How Tony Pollard Fits in Tennesee

As mentioned in the intro, the Titans’ newest offensive weapon has a tall hill to climb if he’s going to avoid making Tennessee fans long for the years of security they had at the position for the better part of the last decade. Just as Mike Evans and Tank Dell technically play the same position in the NFL, Pollard technically plays the same position that Derrick Henry does, but this will not be a 1v1 replacement of the King.

Though the signing is a clear obstacle for Tyjae Spears to get around, this will be a running back by committee, unlike the previous regime’s reliance on a bellcow option. Interestingly enough, Spears’ rushing metrics tend to point toward an easy comparison to early-career Pollard.

Rookie Season Spears v. 2020 Pollard*
Player Year YPA YCO/A Breakaway% Broken+Missed Tackle%
Tony Pollard 2020 4.3 3.59 32.0% 17.8%
Tyjae Spears 2023 4.5 3.15 30.3% 18.0%

*Pollard's first season with 100+ carries

Though Pollard has a slight size advantage and Spears eats up ground as more of an elusive runner, the numbers hint at the sophomore’s role as a…well, Tony Pollard to his new teammate.

A full calendar year removed from Pollard’s “tightrope” surgery and no setbacks to begin this offseason, a new-age one-two punch featuring the former Cowboy as the clear “One” should still give him enough of a role to fit into fantasy squads.

Fantasy Outlook for the Titans’ Backfield

A new era of Titans football means new tactics to move the ball down the field, and the biggest issue at this point is traversing through and around their offensive line. This unit finished as the 29th-ranked group in 4for4’s final ledger, ranking 24th in running back yards before contact (1.33).

That issue can be moderately circumvented when Derrick Henry is in the backfield, as evidenced by his top-10 finish in Stuff% (carries that resulted in zero or fewer yards) last season. In contrast, Spears ranked 22nd in that metric, while Pollard finished 27th behind a far superior offensive line.

The Titans are all but guaranteed to find an offensive lineman in the first round —and probably more pieces later on— of the NFL Draft, and have recently signed center Lloyd Cushenberry. But, offensive line continuity is a real thing, and it could take some of these pieces time to gel into a formidable front.

Projected starter Will Levis also targeted the running back position at the 10th-highest rate last season (20%), which could create a little bit of a floor for both options before things smooth out in the second half of the year.

Tony Pollard and Tyjae Spears are certainly going to deliver a mixed bag of outcomes through the entirety of the 2024 season, but they’re worth stabs, particularly if their ADPs fall following this signing. Moving forward, Pollard should be considered a top-30 option, while Spears shouldn’t be too far behind, considering his rookie season performance.

Bottom Line

  • Tony Pollard slowed in his first entire season as a team’s number-one option, showing a need for someone to spell him.
  • Nobody on the Titans is going to replicate Derrick Henry-level production.
  • The Pollard signing should produce opportunities to select Tyjae Spears at a lesser draft cost.
  • According to Underdog ADP, Tony Pollard and Tyjae Spears are around the RB20 at the time of writing. As we wait for the market to adjust, they are both stay-aways until their costs dip.
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