Tony Pollard Start/Sit Week 12: Fantasy’s top RB handcuff is a great bet on Thanksgiving

Tony Pollard is the RB28 in fantasy despite playing second fiddle to Zeke Elliott. Is he a surprising must-start RB on Thanksgiving?

My top-three RB handcuffs have remained the same the past two seasons: AJ Dillon, Alexander Mattison, and Tony Pollard. The combination of talent and offensive prowess has made these guys must-roster assets in every fantasy football league. Heading into the Cowboys’ Week 12 Thanksgiving game against the Lions, should fantasy managers start Pollard as a top-24 RB?

Seriously, how good is Tony Pollard?

Pollard is an incredible NFL talent, perhaps the best non-starting running back in the game. His 5.5 yards per carry is the fourth-highest mark among RBs with at least 15 carries. In fact, he’s earned more yards per carry than Ezekiel Elliott in each of his three NFL seasons.

He’s also clearly worked on his passing-game prowess. In his first two seasons, Pollard caught 43 balls on 60 targets (72%). This year, he’s caught 25 of 27 targets (93%). Among running backs with at least 15 receptions this season, only Brandon Bolden has a higher catch rate.

Additionally, entering 2021, Pollard had played on only 26% of the Cowboys’ offensive snaps. This year, he’s up to 33% and is comfortably outpacing last year’s per-game touch rate, averaging a healthy 11.5 touches per contest.

His increased usage has led to an improved fantasy standing, as he’s the RB28 heading into Week 12.

Should fantasy managers start Pollard in Week 12?

Let’s face facts: Elliott hasn’t been the same since suffering a knee contusion in Week 9. In the two games since, he’s racked up only 73 yards on 23 rushing attempts (3.2 yards per carry). He has fewer than 13 fantasy points in three of his past four contests. Pollard has looked more explosive. Yet, Dallas is more invested in Elliott as their starter. This remains a one-two punch as long as both are healthy.

And “healthy” is the key variable here. Today’s opponent, the Raiders, are yielding 4.5 yards per carry and have lost three straight games while giving up 96 points. I expect the Cowboys to take care of business and walk away with a 14+ point win. Pollard should get plenty of mop-up work, and perhaps more if Dallas decides Elliott doesn’t need to be worked heavily.

If you remember nothing else from this column, remember this, because I think it effectively conveys what might happen today: 43% of Pollard’s touches this season have come while leading, compared to only 30% of Zeke’s touches.

They are utilized almost 50-50 when the Cowboys are ahead. So if you believe (as I do) that Dallas will coast to a victory, Pollard should see plenty of run. I’d start him as a top-24 RB with about a 30% chance of actually outperforming Zeke.

BJ Rudell is the Fantasy Football Director for Pro Football Network. You can read all of BJ’s work here, listen to him on PFN’s Fantasy Football podcast, and check out his contributions in PFN’s free fantasy newsletter. Give him a follow on Twitter: @BJRudell.

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