Cowboys shouldn't put Dak Prescott era on hold for Tony Romo
Rookie Dak Prescott is the man to go forward with in Dallas right now.
Could a healthy Tony Romo be playing at the level we’ve seen from Prescott? Yes, and most likely at a higher level, based on what we know. But this is not a Romo vs. Prescott debate; regardless of how good we think the veteran might be right now in this offense if he was healthy, sitting Prescott down with the momentum and flow the Cowboys’ offense is playing with would not be wise. Not only is Dallas confident in going with the former Mississippi State Bulldog right now, but it seems Prescott has everything the Cowboys want to build a franchise around. That said, the evolution of Dak Prescott as a player has been an intriguing one.
Prescott has surprised virtually everyone but himself this season. I thought he was about a third-round pick coming out of Mississippi State—a really solid backup option that could maybe develop into more, but never a franchise quarterback. Like any prospect that gets broken down in depth during the draft process, there were many on-field and off-field questions (which can be put to rest).
Watching Prescott in college left you with some questions of whether or not his game could really translate into starting-caliber NFL quarterback play. When watching a prospect’s tape, most scouts try to watch film of QBs at their best, as well as at their worst when things seems to be falling apart. Mississippi State’s two biggest losses in 2015 came at Texas A&M (30-17) and at home vs Alabama (31-6), where you saw similar play from Prescott throughout both games. Our lowest grade for him came against Mississippi State’s toughest opponent, Alabama. Prescott misread coverage quite often, his accuracy was off on some of the tighter coverage throws, he didn’t manage the pocket well at times (leading to nine sacks), was late on some throws, and overall was just uncomfortable in a chaotic environment. His supporting cast and team were clearly outmatched. Prescott still made some plays in these games, but the Alabama and Texas A&M defenses left you thinking that this is what he may look like in the NFL, where coverage is tighter and the game—and your mind—are sped up to a completely different level.
Prescott did show consistent poise/field-vision in the pocket throughout college in a system that—although spread- and shotgun-based—had pro-like concepts in working through progressions and multi-layered route concepts. I liked his ability to take care of the ball (zero multi-interception games during senior year), but he also had a good balance of when to play it safe, and when to cut it loose and take a shot in the intermediate/deep parts of the field. Most of his bad plays were accuracy-based—not the results of poor decision-making.
Prescott was overall an accurate thrower at Mississippi State. PFF Senior Analyst Steve Palazzolo took accuracy to a different level with the 2015 draft class, looking at the proximity of the defender in relationship to the receiver. He found that Prescott ranked among the top three QBs in the three categories where there was space between the DB and WR. However, of the 19 quarterbacks charted, Prescott was 15th with a 19.8 percent accuracy mark in what were considered tight-coverage throws. Many of these came on tough pocket throws or when forced to reset his feet to find second and third options in the progression, raising by far the biggest on-field question coming into to his pro career.
Prescott was the talk of the preseason, and was PFF’s highest-graded quarterback during that span. It was apparent that he worked hard at his game in the months from his final snap at Mississippi State to the first preseason game against the Los Angeles Rams. He was sharp and poised, looked more fluid with his footwork and balance, and had consistent accuracy at every level. Prescott showed the understanding of where to go with the ball and stuck throws. He was hardly under pressure or forced to come off first or second reads, but when he was forced to do so and make tough plays against the Seahawks’ tight coverage, a few inaccuracies crept in. He played really well against simple defensive looks and coverage concepts the preseason brings, though. That said, many tried to step back and wait for the regular season—when more complex game plans are put together by opposing defenses—to draw any real conclusions about the rookie QB.
Prescott has not slowed down one bit, carrying the same level of play and maintaining the momentum he built during the preseason. I broke down his play in the regular season a little more in depth after Week 3, though still with questions of how he would perform against high-level defenses. Although it wasn’t perfect, this past week at Green Bay was the test everyone was waiting to see, and Prescott failed to disappoint, proving you cannot take him out of the lineup right now even with a healthy Romo.
We knew Prescott had a good overall understanding of the game in terms of where to go with the ball, and that he could throw with accuracy on the “easier” attempts and reads required, as he’s consistently always shown that. By far the most impressive thing Prescott has done is make the plays you thought the Cowboys would miss without Romo in the lineup. He’s executed—at an extremely high level—the tough throws quarterbacks are required to make throughout a game while navigating the pocket and resetting their feet. Prescott is currently fifth in the NFL in adjusted accuracy percentage under pressure, completing 68.9 percent of such attempts and consistently making the tough plays. The video below is one of his best plays all year, as Prescott made an extremely tough play look easy.
This offense, driven by Scott Linehan, is a nightmare to stop. They do everything correct from a schematics standpoint. They have the best offensive line, the best running game, pass catchers that can get separation, and cause matchup problems at every position. But make no mistake about it, Prescott’s play is making this the entire operation click at the level it is with his playmaking ability and, most importantly, his decision-making. Like his college career, his bad plays have typically been accuracy issues, not the result of poor decisions.
The Cowboys find themselves in a difficult, but win-win situation. If Prescott struggles at any point—which it’s hard to see him doing given what we’ve seen—whether it be soon or even in the playoffs, Dallas will have a safety net in the form Tony Romo.
One thing appears to be clear, though: Dak Prescott is the future of the Dallas Cowboys organization, and the guy they can feel good about building their franchise around.