Ezekiel Elliott, Tony Pollard's Fantasy Outlook After Cowboys' Win over Saints

Paul KasabianFeatured Columnist IIDecember 3, 2021

NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA - DECEMBER 02: Tony Pollard #20 of the Dallas Cowboys is tackled by Kwon Alexander #5 of the New Orleans Saints in the second quarter of the game at Caesars Superdome on December 02, 2021 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

With each passing week, it's more clear Tony Pollard is the best Dallas Cowboys running back right now.

That was the case after Dallas' 27-17 win over the New Orleans Saints on Thursday. Pollard finished with seven carries for 71 yards, with much of that work coming on a 58-yard touchdown run that gave Dallas a 19-10 lead. 


Theres goes Tony Pollard πŸƒβ€β™‚οΈπŸ’¨<br><br>Down the sideline for a 58-yard touchdown! <a href="https://twitter.com/Tp__5?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@Tp__5</a> <br><br>πŸ“Ί: <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/DALvsNO?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#DALvsNO</a> on NFLN/FOX/PRIME VIDEO<br>πŸ“±: <a href="https://t.co/LMzEctbvnL">https://t.co/LMzEctbvnL</a> <a href="https://t.co/a997wSA6QS">pic.twitter.com/a997wSA6QS</a>

The Saints entered this game allowing just 3.16 yards per carry to running backs, which was the lowest mark in the league, per Football Outsiders. Teams have had significant issues running the ball on New Orleans, and Thursday was no exception.

However, Pollard broke through with the game's biggest play, which appeared as though it would be a loss:

Michael Lopez @StatsbyLopez

Tony Pollard had an expected yards of -1.24 on that 59-yard touchdown run

Next Gen Stats charted the run:

Next Gen Stats @NextGenStats

Tony Pollard (58-yd rush TD)<br><br>Pollard reached a top speed of 21.17 mph on this 3rd quarter TD run, the fastest speed reached by a <a href="https://twitter.com/dallascowboys?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@dallascowboys</a> ball-carrier this season, and second-straight week Pollard has set a career-high in speed.<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/StatThat?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#StatThat</a> | Powered by <a href="https://twitter.com/awscloud?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@awscloud</a> <a href="https://t.co/G2JqfKL9MM">pic.twitter.com/G2JqfKL9MM</a>

Pollard is one of the game's most explosive backs, and Pro Football Focus highlighted his work before the game:

PFF Fantasy Football @PFF_Fantasy

Tony Pollard: 87.0 PFF Grade this season<br><br>3rd best among all RBs<br><br>(πŸ“Έ <a href="https://twitter.com/dallascowboys?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@dallascowboys</a>) <a href="https://t.co/SXx1mgFCPt">pic.twitter.com/SXx1mgFCPt</a>

For the season, Pollard has 107 carries for 602 yards (5.6 YPC) and 31 catches for 259 yards.

Meanwhile, Elliott hasn't been the same since leaving his team's 30-16 loss to the Denver Broncos on Sunday, Nov. 7, with a right knee injury that team owner Jerry Jones termed a "bone bruise."

Elliott's first eight games saw him gain 622 rushing yards on 128 attempts (4.9 YPC). His next three featured him rushing 32 times for 98 yards (3.1 YPC).

Thursday continued the post-Broncos trend, with Elliott gaining just 45 yards on 13 carries. The advanced stats told a bleaker story, per ESPN's Seth Walder, who posted this early in the fourth quarter.

Seth Walder @SethWalder

Ezekiel Elliott has recorded -18 yards over expectation tonight, per <a href="https://twitter.com/NextGenStats?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@NextGenStats</a>.

Ten of Elliott's yards came on his final carry as the Cowboys milked the clock late in the fourth.

Pat Kerrane of NBC Sports Edge explained before the Saints game why Pollard should be getting the bulk of the Cowboys' running back carries, citing numerous Next Gen Stats:

NBC Sports EDGE Football @NBCSEdgeFB

Is a hobbled Ezekiel Elliott still considered an RB1? <a href="https://twitter.com/PatKerrane?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@PatKerrane</a> explains why it might be time to bump the Cowboys' back down a peg. πŸ“‰: <a href="https://t.co/8eRVs4ZbZA">https://t.co/8eRVs4ZbZA</a> <a href="https://t.co/QOAq8i0zcm">pic.twitter.com/QOAq8i0zcm</a>

Pollard is the better back, but the Cowboys are clearly treating Elliott as the 1A to his backup's 1B. Elliott had 15 touches on Sunday, while Pollard had nine.

In the three games between the loss to the Broncos and the victory against the Saints, Elliott out-touched Pollard 47-40.

FantasyPros ranks Elliott as the No. 11 running back in its rest-of-season rankings, making him a borderline RB1 option. Pollard slides in at No. 27, making him worthy of consideration as a back-end RB2.

After the Saints game, it's even harder to trust Elliott as the top starting running back, although it's difficult to bench a player routinely getting about 15 touches per game on a productive offense that is second in the league in points on average.

Unless you're loaded at running back, keep Elliott in your lineups. It's also possible that some extra rest (the Cowboys have 10 days off before returning to the field on Dec. 12 versus the Washington Football Team) helps him recuperate a bit.

As for Pollard, he's definitely worth flex consideration every week given his efficiency and penchant for breaking off big plays. The issue is days like Thursday, where he clearly takes a backseat to Elliott and amasses fewer than 10 touches. Pollard is a great back, but asking him to be as uber-efficient as he's been on a week-to-week basis is a tall order.

Ultimately, he's worth considering every week at the second running back spot at best, and if he doesn't work out there in your lineups, the flex spot could be a good home.