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FOCUS ON… the Dallas Cowboys backfield

FOCUS ON…The Dallas Cowboys Backfield

Dallas selected Ezekiel Elliott fourth overall in the 2016 Draft. Since then, he’s been a dependable fantasy asset. Despite ongoing injuries, he finished as the RB6 in 2021. However, rumours of Zeke’s decline are circulating. This is reflected in his current ADP of RB14 in round 3. Is Zeke really washed out, or was he merely hurt in 2021? Is it a risk or a bargain to draft Zeke at this ADP in 2022?

2021 season

cowboysIn 2021, Tony Pollard was considered the more explosive RB. This was reflected in the disparity in yards per carry between the two running backs (Pollard had 1.3 more YPC than Zeke). Despite this, Zeke led in every other category! Even when playing the entirety of the season with a torn PCL. Most notably, he scored 12 touchdowns compared to Pollard’s 2. 

Weekly statistics

cowboys

Zeke had a higher weekly snap percentage than Pollard. In the majority of games, he had a snap percentage of over 60%. In comparison, Pollard’s snap percentage never exceeded 50% in any week. 

Zeke also had the larger weekly opportunity share for the majority of the season. In week 10 and 16, Pollard had a slightly higher opportunity share. The Cowboys blew out the Falcons and Washington in these games. In both cases, Zeke scored early and was later rested. 

Both players’ weekly rush attempts were game script dependent. Even towards the end of the season, there was no evidence of Pollard taking the lead role from Zeke. 

Both running backs were targeted in 2021. Zeke typically had more targets but Pollard did have some receiving work. This provided extra points for both players in PPR leagues. 


Zeke dominated the red zone work with 37 carries and 15 targets (in contrast Pollard had 16 carries and 7 targets). The coaching staff trusted him even if fans and the fantasy community were questioning his abilities. 

Zeke on the decline?

As the voices get louder that Zeke’s time as an RB1 is over, is this truly the start of his decline? To date, he has amassed 1852 touches and 1573 carries. This is bound to have put strain on his body. Is that reflected in his usage and productivity?

Over the past 3 years, there has been a gradual decrease in rush yards per game and scrimmage yards per game. Opportunity share, touches and rush attempts per game have also reduced. Throughout his career, his yards per carry and breakaway run rate have been highly variable. Interestingly, despite injury, they did not decline significantly in 2021. He did, however, struggle to evade tackles. With this apparent downward trend, I would look to sell him in dynasty leagues (if you can find a buyer). However, my thoughts on redraft differ slightly…

2022 outlook

We have no reason to believe Zeke will relinquish his role in 2022. Even with an injury, Zeke had the most rush attempts and targets in 2021. He also maintained the majority of the red zone work and 86% of the RB touchdowns. 

A breakout appears unlikely for Tony Pollard in 2022. For now, he will continue to work behind Zeke. It’s likely that he won’t get the high-value touches even if he gets more carries. In the event that Zeke misses time with injury, he will take over the lead role, but he has only ever missed one game due to injury! 

Final Fantasy Focus

Though Zeke may not be considered the best back in Dallas, he will serve as the lead RB again in 2022. The work he is likely to receive will make him an RB1 again. He’s extremely reliable and I think he is a value at his current ADP (RB14, Rd 3 0.5 PPR leagues).

Pollard will most likely be an RB3 again this season. Without a Zeke injury, his upside is limited. Based on previous history, this is not something we can count on. If given the choice, I would rather roster AJ Dillon (the GB backfield was discussed in my first article) since he has more guaranteed high value touches.

Hannah @hanrowland

To read Hannah’s previous FOCUS article on the New York Jets, click here

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