November 30, 2020

Tony Pollard fantasy outlook in Week 9 with Ezekiel Elliott injury

5 min read
The NFL is all about the “next man up,” and the Dallas Cowboys might have...

The NFL is all about the “next man up,” and the Dallas Cowboys might have to use that same mantra on Sunday if Ezekiel Elliott is unable to play against the Pittsburgh Steelers due to a hamstring injury. This would leave the backfield to RB Tony Pollard to carry the load. However, should fantasy football managers be quick to trust Tony Pollard if he is the starter in Elliott’s absence, or is the combination of a stagnant offense and vaunted Steelers defense something they should steer clear of in Week 9?

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Ezekiel Elliott has been limited in practice with a hamstring injury, giving Tony Pollard a larger role in the offense

Not only do the Cowboys not know if they will be starting Garrett Gilbert or Cooper Rush, but they also don’t know if Ezekiel Elliott will be good to go for their Week 9 matchup. 

Elliott hurt his hamstring during the Cowboys’ 23-9 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles last week and has been limited in practice, coach Mike McCarthy said Friday.

“He’s got a hamstring that we’re just being smart with,” McCarthy said, according to ESPN’s Todd Archer. “That’s why he was limited [Thursday], feels better today. But our work [on Saturday] will tell us a lot, and we’ll take it all the way to the pregame workout.”

Related | Fantasy RB Rankings Week 9: Sleepers, must-starts, potential busts

Ever since Dak Prescott went down with his gruesome ankle injury, Elliott has been virtually non-existent in the Cowboy’s offense. Elliott has not had a 100-yard rushing game for the Cowboys this season and has been held without a rushing touchdown for the past three games. The first time he’s had a streak that long since the final four weeks of the 2018 season.

His 3.9 yards per carry average and 6.5 yards per reception average are both career lows. Also, Elliott has struggled to hold onto the football in 2020. He leads all running backs in the NFL with five fumbles on the season, two more than Melvin Gordon.

While he has been able to get in some work during practice, his status is up in the air. This would leave second-year RB Tony Pollard as the man to get all of the backfield action and have the fantasy value this week for the Cowboys. Pollard set season-highs in Week 8 against the Eagles in both rushing and receiving yards, rushing seven times for 40 yards and catching both of his targets for an additional 24 yards. 

Even if Ezekiel Elliott plays through his injury on Sunday, he will not be at full strength, and we need to expect Tony Pollard to see a larger role than normal. However, when combining the start of the Cowboy’s offense and the Steelers defense, is Tony Pollard someone that should even be played in fantasy in Week 9?

The Cowboys will struggle to do anything on Sunday against the Steelers, limiting Tony Pollard’s fantasy value

I don’t think it is much of a reach or an over-exaggeration to say that the Cowboys without Prescott are not a good football team. 

The Cowboys ranked third in the NFL in scoring in the five games Prescott started, averaging 32.6 points per game. In the three games since, the Cowboys have scored a total of 22 points. In the past three games and 37 offensive drives, they have scored one touchdown. The only team that is close to the Cowboys offensive struggles are the New York Jets, who have scored 19 points in the same time period. 

Yes, Elliott is the RB4 in fantasy but that is not reflective of his current status. Since the start of Week 6, Elliott is the No. 32 running back in fantasy, right behind Lamical Perine of the aforementioned Jets. And that was when he was at full strength. 

Now we are looking at a potential timeshare between both Elliott and Tony Pollard against one of, if not the best defense in the NFL. The Steelers allow the ninth-fewest fantasy points per game to their opponents and just 18.0 PPR points per game to opposing teams of running backs, the second-lowest number in the league.

They are giving up 101.3 yards rushing (second-fewest) and give up only 22.6 receiving yards per game while allowing a single receiving touchdown. Throw in the part that the Steelers have faced on average 22 running back touches per game, and the fact Pollard and Elliott will be splitting these paltry numbers is concerning at best for fantasy. 

What should fantasy managers do with Tony Pollard in Week 9?

Personally, I am benching Tony Pollard in fantasy even if Ezekiel Elliott’s injury keeps him out of the game on Sunday. The Steelers have those numbers as a unit after going against Saquon Barkley, Melvin Gordon, David Johnson, Miles Sanders, Kareem Hunt, and Derrick Henry. I challenge you to find one player on that list that Tony Pollard is more talented than.

While we have seen Tony Pollard be one of the best backups in the NFL and could rival for a starting spot on several rosters in the NFL, this is not a fantasy play that I want any part of in Week 9.

I am not even confident in starting Ezekiel Elliott this week if he was at full strength. I mean, sure, you likely don’t have someone better than him on your roster but to expect anything more than a mid-RB2 fantasy performance on the team’s current offense, I think, is unrealistic. 

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Tommy Garrett is a writer for PFN covering Fantasy Football. You can read more of his work here and follow him at @TommygarrettPFN on Twitter.

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