Our “Better or Worse” series for 2021 continues now with the running backs and fullbacks. With minimal personnel changes from last year, Dallas is counting on improved offensive line play and the development of existing talent to make this group more effective.
Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard return as one of the better RB duos in football. 2020 was certainly a down year for both but understandable given the offensive line injuries and Dak Prescott's absence. It's not hard to have faith in Zeke and Pollard to bounce back this season.
That said, those mitigating factors didn't cause Elliott to have five fumbles in his first six games. There's no denying that Zeke's lack of ball security early in 2020 were key contributors to Dallas' 2-4 record in those early weeks, undermining the potentially record-breaking work that Prescott was doing in the passing game.
Pollard saw an uptick in usage in last year, getting 15 more carries and 13 more catches than his rookie season. With reports already from offseason practices that Tony is getting looks at receiver, perhaps those passing game numbers could increase even more.
Even if not, Pollard remains solidified as RB2 behind Elliott and a guy that Dallas will be looking for creative ways to get the ball. Just halfway into his rookie contract, Tony is currently one of the better values on the entire roster.
2021 Offseason Movement at RB/FB
- JaQuan Hardy
- Brenden Knox
- Nick Ralston (FB)
Even the third RB position may be already locked up for 2021. Rico Dowdle, an undrafted free agent last year, showed his value on special teams both as a returner and in coverage. While Dallas has added some new UDFAs in Hardy and Knox, they will have to put in some work to knock Dowdle off the roster.
The more intriguing situation is actually with the fullbacks. With Olawale being cut this offseason, Dallas has prospects Sewo Olonilua and UDFA Nick Ralston currently vying for the position.
I wrote a week ago on Ralston's solid chance at making the Cowboys roster over any other undrafted rookies. There's not veteran to worry about; Olonilua was a UDFA himself in 2020 and is converting to FB after playing RB at TCU.
Whether or not Dallas keeps a fullback at all in 2021 is the biggest threat to Ralston or Olonilua making the team.
Had he played last year, Jamize Olawale had some potential to do interesting things with Mike McCarthy's influence. McCarthy has historically gotten more use out of the FB position than most offensive minds in the modern NFL.
Whether it's through further growth from Olonilua or Ralston bringing an upgrade as a true fullback, either will be better than the virtual nothing that Dallas got from the position in 2020.
Overall, it's hard to say this RB/FB group will really be any different than a year ago. They may wind up looking much better thanks to improvements around them, but the talent level is roughly the same.
That said, a third-year pop from Tony Pollard is definitely on the table. So is further development from Dowdle and perhaps the reemergence of a contributing fullback.
At the very least, you can't say the group is any worse off than a year ago.