Round 5 – Memphis RB-KR Tony Pollard
5-11, 200 – Senior
Previous Pick: Elon RT Olisaemeka Udoh
Tampa Bay had one of the worst running games in the league last year with Peyton Barber as the team’s only reliable ballcarrier, rushing for a career high 871 yards and five touchdowns while averaging only 3.7 yards per carry. The Bucs used their second-round pick on USC’s Ronald Jones II last year to bring more speed and playmaking to the running back position, but he disappointed, rushing for only 44 yards and one touchdown on 23 carries (1.9 avg.) and catching seven passes for 33 yards (4.7 avg.) and dropping several others.
Despite the coaching change, Bucs general manager Jason Licht would be a fool to automatically believe that Jones will magically develop into a credible NFL running back under Bruce Arians and he must act as if Jones will be a bust and draft another running back as insurance policy and for competition. Memphis junior Darrell Henderson, who was one of the most explosive players in college football over the past two years, was featured in PewterReport.com’s initial 2019 Bucs’ 6-Round Mock Draft as a third-round pick.
But the guess here is that Arians, who is a big believer in second chances, will sign 2017 Pro Bowler Kareem Hunt despite the fact that Hunt will get suspended by the league for assaulting a woman during the offseason. That suspension could last six to 10 games, and the Bucs will need to draft a pass-catching back to complement Barber and help on third downs. So the Bucs turn to Pollard, Henderson’s Memphis teammate, in the fifth round.
Pollard was a Swiss army knife for Mike Norvell at Memphis, being used as a receiver, running back and a kick returner, where he returned seven kickoffs for touchdowns in his Tigers career, to tie the NCAA record. Despite being just 5-foot-11, 200 pounds, Pollard has good contact balance to slip tackles, great quickness and acceleration and good body control. He’s a slippery runner and pretty tough between the tackles. Pollard is also a willing blocker and pretty good in pass protection.
Pollard’s Memphis Career Rushing Stats
2016: 31 carries for 159 yards (5.1 avg.) with 1 TD and a long of 19 yards
2017: 30 carries for 230 yards (7.7 avg.) with 2 TDs and a long of 66 yards
2018: 78 carries for 552 yards (7.1 avg.) with 6 TDs and a long of 41 yards
Pollard’s Memphis Career Receiving Stats
2016: 29 catches for 159 yards (10.3 avg.) with 2 TDs and a long of 45 yards
2017: 36 catches for 230 yards (14.9 avg.) with 4 TDs and a long of 59 yards
2018: 39 catches for 458 yards (11.7 avg.) with 3 TDs and a long of 44 yards
Pollard’s Memphis Career Kick Return Stats
2016: 38 returns for 1,068 yards (28.1 avg.) with 2 TDs and a long of 100 yards
2017: 22 returns for 881 yards (40.0 avg.) with 4 TDs and a long of 100 yards
2018: 27 returns for 667 yards (24.7 avg.) with 1 TD and a long of 97 yards
When Henderson skipped the Birmingham Bowl to prepare for the NFL Draft, Pollard stepped in as the primary rusher and had a career-high 17 carries for 109 yards (6.4 avg.) and a touchdown in a 37-34 loss against Wake Forest. Pollard was the leading rusher at the Senior Bowl with 60 yards on eight carries (7.5 avg.), including a 21-yard touchdown run for the South squad. Pollard also caught two passes for 13 yards and returned one kick for 16 yards to finish as the game’s all-purpose yardage leader with 89 yards.
In three seasons at Memphis, Pollard finished with 941 rushing yards and nine touchdowns, including six rushing touchdowns this past season. He also added 1,292 career receiving yards and nine receiving touchdowns, along with 2,616 kick return yards and seven touchdowns. The Bucs’ kick return game has been stagnant for years and Pollard could bring some speed and much-needed playmaking ability to that unit.
Pollard is built similarly to Andre Ellington, a running back that Arians used in Arizona on all three downs as a complementary back. Arians likes backs with speed, and Pollard is expect to run a 4.5 or faster at the NFL Scouting Combine in March. Pollard is so electric that I’ve included his 2018 highlights in addition to his 2016-17 highlights in this mock draft.
The Bucs’ sixth-round pick was traded to Arizona for head coach Bruce Arians.