Draft Daily: What did we miss on Dak Prescott?

How did PFF, and the draft community at large, undervalue Prescott so much last offseason? Steve Palazzolo answers.

| 3 months ago
Dak Prescott draft

Draft Daily: What did we miss on Dak Prescott?

Pro Football Focus’ Draft Daily will hit on a number of NFL Draft-related topics including recent news, scouting reports, PFF draft takes, and much more on a frequent basis.

Yesterday’s PFF Draft Daily examined the question: how early is too early to draft a QB? Be sure to join the conversation and leave us your thoughts.

What did we miss on Dak?

It’s a question not just for PFF, but for the entire NFL. After Dak Prescott’s outstanding rookie season, it’s a fair question to ask why he was drafted in the fourth round at No. 135 overall. When evaluating his 2015 Mississippi State film compared to his 2016 Dallas tape, it’s clear that Prescott made great strides with his footwork, pocket presence, decision-making and accuracy, so credit needs to go to both Prescott and the Cowboys’ coaching staff. However, when looking back at our unique PFF data, there may have been a couple pieces of data in our advanced accuracy charting that should have received more attention from our team.

Our analysts charted 20 quarterbacks from last year’s draft class, and while Prescott’s overall numbers were solid, a deeper look showed a few areas in which he excelled. Prescott had the best accuracy (defined as a perfectly-thrown pass “in-stride,” or one that hits the receiver between the numbers; passes that are “catchable,” but off-target, do not count as accurate for this study) in the draft class on passes where his receivers had a step of separation. He also led the way on passes with a step of separation at both the 6-10-yard range and the 11-20-yard range.

Dak Prescott accuracy

If that’s the case, why didn’t Prescott lead in overall accuracy? The answer: His accuracy on throws into “tight” coverage was among the worst in the class (16th), and he also threw a higher percentage of tighter-window throws into tight coverage (7 percent higher than the class average). Whether that was Prescott taking more chances, not having the receivers to separate, or not having the system that set up easier throws, the overall numbers were pushed down by his high percentage of throws into tight coverage.

Here are a few more takeaways from Prescott’s accuracy numbers last season:

  • 72.5 percent of Prescott’s throws went to “open” receivers, defined as having at least one step of separation, including screens and passes thrown behind the line of scrimmage. The draft class average was 80.0 percent, meaning Prescott had 7.5 percentage points fewer “easy” throws than his peers.
  • The draft class average for accuracy on passes to open receivers was 58.1 percent. Prescott bested that by 8.8 percent, at 66.9 percent.
  • The draft class average for accuracy on passes to receivers with a step of separation was 49.8 percent. Prescott was 12.9 percent better, at 62.7 percent.

It’s all starting to make sense now, of course, with the benefit of hindsight. The Cowboys’ scheme did a fantastic job of creating open receivers, and Prescott did an equally-fine job finding them. Our numbers backed up that Prescott would excel in the right situation with open windows to throw to, and Dallas gave him that opportunity. The tight-window throws are still a concern, and we will have Prescott’s Year 1 data in the near future. For now, Prescott’s breakout doesn’t look all that crazy when analyzing the area in which he excelled in college and the offense that he found himself in as a rookie.

Scouting report for running back Leonard Fournette

Just how good is the former LSU running back? PFF analyst Matt Claassen is a former college running back, and he does a lot of our work in evaluating the running backs in the draft class. Matt sees the positives to Fournette’s game, but there is at least one weakness for zone-heavy teams, and there are still questions about Fournette’s future contributions in the passing game.

PFF analyst draft takes

Our analysts are hard at work analyzing the 2017 draft class and adding their spin on what they’re seeing. The beauty here is that we’re not always in lockstep with each take, and it shows the unique interpretation each of our analysts can have when watching film and analyzing PFF grades and stats. Here are a few of the more interesting takes of the week:

Samuel did it all for the Buckeyes, ranking second only to Oklahoma’s Joe Mixon with a receiving grade of 87.1 last season, lining up at receiver on 441 of his snaps. Samuel lined up in the backfield on 202 snaps.

Gordon McGuinness goes bold with his declaration that Lattimore is the best corner in the class. There aren’t many six-foot corners with Lattimore’s movement skills and ability to play press or off coverage, and he’s currently ranked 18th on the PFF Draft Board (fifth among cornerbacks). Lattimore may be making a leap forward in our next rankings.

Gordon McGuinness is our special teams expert for both the NFL and college football, and while his kicker-love can be a bit much at times, Gonzalez is a legitimate NFL prospect. The question then goes to draft value for a good kicker, and end of day two is still too high for my liking. Unless a team is loaded with picks, it’s best to find kickers on Day 3.

PFF Draft Podcast

The latest PFF Draft Podcast is now available, as I team up with Senior Analyst Mike Renner for our usual ramblings, including a pick-by-pick breakdown of Mock Draft 4.0. Mike brings it with his usual “hot take” of the week, and this one was burning so strong that he had to kick off the show with it. We also discuss players moving up and down the draft board, review old scouting reports (including some insight on Dak Prescott). We are also blessed with Nathan Jahnke’s mind-blowing stat of the week, quickly becoming the most-talked about segment in football podcasting.

Be sure to download and subscribe to the PFF Podcast from your favorite provider.

PFF Draft Pass

Stay tuned for a very exciting venture, as the PFF Draft Pass will be your way to access the most unique NFL Draft insights available. Release information coming soon!

| Senior Analyst

Steve is a senior analyst at Pro Football Focus. His work has been featured on ESPN Insider, NBC Sports, and 120 Sports.

  • Nick Cortez

    I love this in depth, retrospective analysis. This is often a question that many draft followers have…what was missed. How do we understand how some players passed over time and time again end up shining, and early.

    • brigjack

      But they forgot the intangible problem that really pushed Prescott down: his DUI. Dallas, along with NE even more prolifically, has proven the riverboat gambler approach to drafting and free agent pickups can net you huge dividends on occasions. Dallas took a chance on Prescott late and it paid off. There’s only been a hint of his drinking proclivity from night clubbing videos of Elliott and him, while his job performance has been phenomenal. Gamblers luck for Dallas.

      • Andrew Luis Cook

        You forget that the DUI was dropped. It was in error. Now, Garrett still grilled Prescott about it, but the DUI itself was not why Prescott fell. In my opinion, he fell for a few other reasons: (1) The fact that he came out of a “spread” offense and (2) His overall accuracy numbers. There may be more, but that’s what I saw. Furthermore, Garrett was pleased with how Prescott handled his questions about the DUI. He owned it, and failed to get defensive about it. To say he fell solely because of a DUI that was dropped is simplistic, and to say that it was gambler’s luck for Dallas fails to account for the amount of homework and coaching they put into Prescott.

      • Nick Cortez

        I completely agree with you, but it is also good to look back and see what was missed. Dak was never considered a R1 prospect coming out, even before the DUI. It is possible that he just landed in the perfect situation. Great O-line, WRs, and running game.

  • jFresh46

    PFF you missed on DAK because you can’t factor in will to win and the players desire to be the best. DAK didn’t have talent around him at state. He made that team better in the SEC. You can’t factor that in by a quantitative approach because it’s qualitative. DAK was the best QB before the draft but got overlooked. Even if Watson could have been eligible, I still thought DAK was the best QB in the draft. I can’t post my text message from Dec 2015 saying this to my friend.

  • Jason Congleton

    When you talk about Dak’s numbers compared to the draft class, are you referring to in college?

    You mentioned “we will have Prescott’s Year 1 data in the near future.” so I think that means you must have posted numbers from college and not his year in Dallas, right?


    The football community missed on Dak Prescott because he did not fit the prototypical profile of an NFL QB. If you really studied his tape you saw a QB that could make all the throws, a QB that was physically strong, a QB that played in one of the strongest conference in college footbal and a QB that was determine to win. But all the NFL analyst saw that he was not 6’6″ blond and blued. They saw QBs that played in weak conferences against weak competition. They didn’t see a QB that in 2014, break all sorts of school records (4,435 yards of total offense, 27 touchdown passes, 61.6 completion percentage), named a finalist for the Maxwell, Davey O’Brien, Manning, and Unitas Golden Arm awards and helping his team to a 10-3 record. The two-time first team All-SEC pick ended up with 38 MSU records after a senior year where he won the Senior CLASS Award as the top scholar-athlete on and off the field. It was all there but they could not get over the fact that he did not fit the prototypical profile of an NFL QB. Even though his measurables were that of a football player; 6’2″ height, 230 lbs., 32 1/4″ arm length, and 10 7/8″ hands. They missed the physical, athletic, and leadership traits comparable to Tim Tebow, but Prescott is vastly more pro-ready as a passer. They said that Dak needed to improve his mechanics, poise and quickness through his progressions if he is to become a full­-time starter in the NFL. How wrong were they, day one Dak looked NFL ready and when Romo went down Dak look like a ten year veteran.

    • Jason Congleton

      “The football community missed on Dak Prescott because he did not fit the prototypical profile of an NFL QB. If you really studied his tape you saw a QB that could make all the throws, a QB that was physically strong, a QB that played in one of the strongest conference in college footbal and a QB that was determine to win. But all the NFL analyst saw that he was not 6’6″ blond and blued.”

      This is just a lazy assertion. They also saw Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota were not “6’6″ blond and blue eyed”. They still drafted those 2 guys #1 and #2 overall the prior year. They studied their film too, just like they did with Dak. Sometimes they miss on a guy, look at Tom Brady, he was drafted in the 6th round. Guys also improve and make corrections.

      He also dropped a round or 2 because of the DUI (which was later dropped btw).