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Walker: Dak Prescott - Tony Pollard's potential at NFL level 'exciting'

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  • Walker: Dak Prescott - Tony Pollard's potential at NFL level 'exciting'

    By PATRIK WALKER May 30, 11:53 AM

    It was a rough 2018 for Tavon Austin, but he's back in the mix.

    The veteran wide receiver was set to hit NFL free agency in March, but he'll instead return to the Dallas Cowboys, officially signing a one-year deal worth $1 million with $500,000 guaranteed. The cap number on his deal maxes out at $1.328 million due to the inclusion of $750,000 in active gameday bonuses and another $250,000 if the Cowboys make the playoffs. The base salary is not far above the veteran minimum for his tenure, listed at $805,000, and the guaranteed money is very team-friendly. Depending upon how things shake out in 2019, particularly with the signing of Randall Cobb to replace Cole Beasley and the NFL Draft haul one that includes former Memphis running back Tony Pollard the jury is out on if Austin survives final cutdowns at the end of August.

    He's a team-favorite and very well may stick around, but should the team opt to move on thanks to Pollard, the dead money hit would only be the guaranteed $500,000.

    It's an easy out, if needed.

    For his part, quarterback Dak Prescott was elated when he saw Pollard's highlight reel from college, and it's carrying over thus far in organized team activities.

    "He's somebody I watched before the draft that I was excited about, just because he did it all," Prescott said, via Jon Machota of The Dallas Morning News. "I looked up his highlights and they said receiver at first. I was like, 'Dang, I thought we were getting a running back.' But then you see him playing running back and he's still having success. You look at Randall Cobb's highlights, it's the same stuff he did in college.

    "It's exciting."

    By all accounts, Pollard has also floored more than a few with his speed at OTAs, affirming the Cowboys' decision to select him.

    After being traded to the Cowboys in 2018 by way of the Los Angeles Rams in exchange for sixth-round pick, things didn't exactly go swimmingly for Austin once he landed in North Texas, although he did show flashes of his ability here and there. Those were roundly drowned out by questions regarding his ability to remain on the field, however. Austin missed nine regular season games after suffering a severe groin tear against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 6, and although he'd avoid landing on injured reserve, he was a shell of himself when he returned in late December.

    That led to limited snaps and a seat on the inactives list, as the Cowboys tried desperately to avoid a setback going into the playoffs where Austin went on to deliver just five receiving yards on two catches in two games. He fared much better in the return game against the Seattle Seahawks, blasting forward for 73 yards on five attempts, and that didn't include what could've been a game-breaking touchdown return that was called by due to a holding penalty.

    Austin was back, it seemed, until his stat line against the Rams showed up. He caught one ball for minus two yards, and lost return duties to Cole Beasley and Jourdan Lewis, which was clear indication something was still not quite right with the now 28-year-old. Still, the Cowboys needed insurance against potentially not getting "their guy" in the draft, which made re-signing the bubbly Austin a no-brainer. Now that they have their guy in Pollard, though, Austin is officially on the clock.

    The team won't say it outright, but it's the reality of the situation, especially when you listen to how they fawn over the former Tiger.

    Following the selection, to hear them compare Pollard to New Orleans Saints' superstar halfback Alvin Kamara was kind of a big deal.
    "[Pollard] was the easy one," Jones said. "He was a guy that we had targeted earlier. I compare it to Sherman Williams' pick when we had Emmitt [Smith]. When you get those guys that are just a couple clicks down from Emmitt, a couple clicks down from Zeke and they don't have special qualities, then they have a hard time. They're going to get four or five carries and they're not great special teams players.

    "I think this guy can be a lot different than just a space player. There are guys who are convicted in our room. There are some guys who are a little more worried that you can't use him too much, but Pollard is a real running back. I think he can give you plays between the tackles.

    "I think he can give you plays as a true running back. It's very unfair to him because [Alvin] Kamara is one of the best in the business, but he's got some Kamara-esque, poor man's traits. Obviously, he's got to come in here and show it, but he can do a lot of things.

    "He can play flyer on special teams. He can return kicks. He can do all of that, but what excites me the most is his home-run threat as a running back. He can get in there and take some snaps off of Zeke, which I think Zeke needs at times, and when Pollard is in there he's going to be a problem when defenses are looking at him.

    "He's a sub-4.40 guy. A legit sub-4.40. I just think this is a guy who's going to be the right guy when you dress two backs [on game day]. With [Jamize Olawale], you're going to have three guys up on the 46 and they're going to make all the sense.

    "If Zeke gets hurts, you're going to need Batman and Robin, and that's when a guy like [Mike] Weber can come in and do the job."

    For reference, Weber was the team's 218th-overall pick in this year's draft, and the former Buckeye who replaced Elliott at Ohio State is now reunited with his mentor.

    Weber also has the chops to be dynamic, but in a different capacity than Pollard, making the latter more of a direct head-to-head for Austin. At Memphis, Pollard ranked sixth in the 2019 draft class in percentage of not being tackled upon first contact at (41.8%), according to Pro Football Focus. In other words, he's as slippery as a wet eel and twice as electric, able to break a game open as a running back, a wide receiver and most certainly a returner. He rattled off 2,616 kick return yards and seven return TDs in his last three collegiate seasons, numbers good enough to see him honored twice as an All-AAC offensive player and twice as an All-AAC Special Teams Player of the Year.

    In the end, Austin was brought in with the hopes of cleaning up what the Cowboys thought were misses in the preceding drafts. If the selection of Pollard turns out to be as advertised, Austin will not only need to remain healthy, but he'll need to beat out a young Sonic the Hedgehog at every possible turn going forward. Otherwise, at best, he'll simply become Tails but he can't blame Eggman for falling short.

    Pollard, thus far, holds all seven of the Chaos Emeralds.
    2016 DCC LOTY Fantasy Football Champion