Metrics that Matter: How good was Dak Prescott's rookie year really?
(“Metrics that Matter” is a short feature that appears every weekday, highlighting a notable fantasy lesson to be learned from PFF’s advanced stats.)
It seems like everyone has an excuse for why Dak Prescott’s rookie season might not have been as great as it seemed. He had the best offensive line in football, he had a great running back and receiving corps, he was never asked to make difficult throws. The final point will be the focus of today’s installment of Metrics That Matter. Cowboys-haters have come up with a charming witticism for the Cowboys offense last season: “Dak and Dunk.” Their argument is that Prescott was Alex Smith/Sam Bradford-esque levels of boring last season.
If their point was that Prescott wasn’t asked to throw deep very often, they’re mostly right. His 43 deep passes (balls traveling 20 or more yards through the air) ranked only 27th-most last season. His average depth of target (8.6) ranked 20th-highest of 36 qualifying passers. If their argument was that Prescott can’t or wasn’t very good at throwing deep, they are wrong.
Counting the playoffs, Prescott got to 50 deep pass attempts. Among all 206 instances this past decade of a quarterback throwing at least 50 deep pass attempts in a single season (playoffs included), Prescott’s passer rating on deep balls ranked 14th-best, and best by a rookie quarterback. Here’s the full top-20 list:
Prescott’s completion and yards-per-attempt average ranked on the lower end of the above 20 names, but he ranked extremely well in touchdown and interception percentage. You’ll also notice that the 2016 season stands out as one with atypically high efficiency from quarterbacks when passing deep. Matt Ryan and Tom Brady ranked best and second-best this past decade. The 2016 season provided six quarterbacks ranking in the top-20, while the next-closest season only had three. The first half of the decade only provided four such seasons. My first thought was that deep passing efficiency has been increasing each year, but in actuality, rates have been fairly stagnant over the past six seasons (average deep passer rating of 88.2.)
What does this mean for fantasy?
Contrary to what anyone says, or what excuses anyone wants to make, Prescott just posted the best statistical season by a rookie quarterback ever. Sure, his offensive line was good. Yes, if era-adjusting, maybe Dan Marino’s was better. But even on top of the offensive line, the running game, the receivers, the gamescript, or anything else, these numbers are incredible:
What’s scary is that it’s possible Prescott’s real breakout may still be yet to come. He may be due for a decline in efficiency on the back of an outlier year (in terms of typical rookie production), or perhaps, he’s still developing. Prescott ran the ball 57 times (ninth-most) for 281 yards (eighth-most) and six touchdowns (led all quarterbacks) last season. However, over his final three seasons in college, he ran the ball 13.6 times per game for an average of 65.0 rushing yards and 1.0 rushing touchdowns per game. It is possible we aren’t properly including Prescott’s Konami Code potential into our 2017 projections.
Hopefully the Dallas offense loosens the reigns on Prescott in terms of running the ball, but also in terms of deep passing, considering how efficient he was last year. While it is possible those high efficiency numbers may also be a result of Dallas throwing deep less often than most teams, another year of rapport-building with Dez Bryant can only help both players. Bryant provided the bulk of Prescott’s deep passing totals last season. He was targeted on 46 percent of Prescott’s deep passes and accounted for 45 percent of his deep passing yardage.
As it stands, Prescott is one of my top targets in dynasty leagues and is a steal at his current ADP (QB13) in redraft leagues. Bryant’s ADP is currently in the middle of the second round, but I’m comfortable taking him at the end of the first.