During the long NFL offseason, it’s easy to get carried away with optimistic expectations. This isn’t just true for the expectations on a team’s win-loss record, but for individual players as well. It’s easy – in the middle of June –  to think that a veteran will get back to his prime self, or that a young backup will break out and have a career year. But that optimism isn’t always backed up on the playing field, which leads to disappointment.

Usually, one can avoid that disappointment by setting more realistic expectations for a player’s season. I think Dallas Cowboys fans should do so with Running Back Tony Pollard.

Pollard has become one of Cowboys Nation’s favorites after two years in the NFL. He’s averaged 4.8 yards per attempt in his 187 career rushes, showing off impressive explosiveness and ability in open space. His success in limited playing time has been such that some fans and analysts are even calling for Pollard and Ezekiel Elliott to split snaps.

Yet it’s hard to make the case that Pollard is a better running back than Zeke. In spite of Elliott’s recent “decline,” he’s still the better, more balanced player of the two. It’s not an impossible case to make, though. In fact, some numbers even give the advantage to Pollard.

As is often the case, one would imagine the numbers would change if the Dallas Cowboys increased Pollard’s workload to the level of Zeke’s. One should also question how much would these numbers change if it weren’t for Elliott’s fumbles early in the season. Not that those should be excused, but one would assume Zeke will not fumble five times in six games like he did to start the 2020 season.

And explosiveness aside, Elliott is likely the player that will continue to gain that extra yard at the end of every play. And he definitely is the Cowboys will want to hand the ball off to in key short-yardage situations.

The Cowboys clearly reduced Elliott’s snaps after Dak’s injury, probably wanting to get him some rest in a “lost” season. In the first five weeks, he averaged an 87% snap count percentage. He would play in over 70% of the snaps in just one game after Prescott’s injury.

But Dallas Cowboys fans should probably expect that to change in 2021. Ezekiel Elliott, with such a huge contract, is likely to remain the team’s workhorse. And while Tony Pollard isn’t likely to split snaps evenly at RB with Zeke, fans might get to see more from him next season.

The Cowboys have reportedly been lining up Pollard at wide receiver as they try to exploit his strengths in open space. The young player could become a strong hybrid player for Dallas if he’s able to replicate what he did in college for Memphis.

Although it’s too early to tell if this is a legit strategy the Cowboys will use or just an offseason experiment, Pollard did some damage at WR while in Memphis. Even still, fans will be better off holding realistic expectations on Tony’s potential snap count. After all, one of the best wide receiver units in the NFL is in Dallas.

The good news is that even with limited playing time, the Dallas Cowboys have a dangerous weapon in Tony Pollard. And by the looks of it, they’re actively looking for ways to keep him involved.

Featured image via Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports