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2018 Cowboys: Projecting Dak Prescott’s Production

has been a lightning rod of a topic this offseason with him set to enter the third year of his rookie contract. Typically, franchise quarterbacks on rookie deals will get their extension somewhere just before the last year of their rookie deal, which makes 2018 a very important year for the young signal caller.

Let me preface this article by stating that I'm a believer in Dak Prescott. I think he's poised for a really good season.

He may not have the most arm talent in the NFL, but he has enough. It's the intangibles that have me ready to follow Dak Prescott for the next 10 years as the quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys. You know, those things that don't show up in the stat book. Leadership, perseverance, drive to improve, and an ability to take care of the football are the things that have me backing Dak.

Now, I was also a big homer as well, so don't take anything in this post to be directed in any way toward Tony Romo. It ain't about that. This is about what Dak has done and can do in 2018. That's all.

Looking Back

Dak Prescott took the world by storm during his rookie campaign, leading the team to a 13-2 record before playing only two series in the season finale against the Philadelphia Eagles.

Sure, it didn't end the way we all would have liked as the got in a hole early to the Green Bay  ' — Packers in the , but Dak's intangibles and a great game by Dez Bryant led a furious charge over the final three quarters as they nearly completed the comeback.

If it weren't for a miracle play from Aaron Rodgers to Jared Cook, there's a good chance the Dallas Cowboys would have gone on to the NFC Championship.

So close, and yet so far away. 

Looking at that 2016 season, Dak Prescott had the fourth highest completion percentage in the NFL at 67%. Only Sam Bradford, Drew Brees, and Matt Ryan had a better completion percentage than Dak.

No quarterback who played in 13 or more games had fewer interceptions that Prescott's four. Only , who played in 12 games that season because of his #deflategate , had fewer interceptions with two. played in the final 12 games for the and also had four interceptions.

Don't bring up Kaepernick's QB ability, Don't bring up Kaepernick's QB ability, Don't bring up Kaepernick's QB ability.

Phew, that was a close one. Now back to the quarterDak you came here for.

Dak's quarterback rating of 104.9 was third that season behind the two quarterbacks who played in the Super Bowl; Tom Brady and Matt Ryan. It was better than Aaron Rodgers, who is considered by many to be the best quarterback in the NFL.

In fact, if you remove the week 17 game against Philadelphia, where he only attempted eight passes, Prescott's quarterback rating goes up to 105.6.

Over the first 24 games of his career, his passer rating was greater than 90, 17 times. Over the last eight games of 2017, that happened only twice.

Prescott's passing yardage wasn't great, but it was more than Cam Newton, Marcus Mariota, and Alex Smith. Still, he nearly hit the 4,000-yard mark with 3,667 in 2016. Remember, he played only two series against the Eagles in week 17.

He was the rookie of the year for very good reasons. He won, put up good numbers and was efficient in leading the Dallas Cowboys offense.

Over the first 24 games of Dak Prescott's career he averaged 228.5 passing yards per game, which is consistent with his rookie year production at 229.2 yards per game. Again, if we remove the week 17 game against Philadelphia in 2016, his rookie season yards per game would be 242 yards per game.

Over the last eight games of 2017, with and out for much of that time, his yardage average dropped to 188.25. That's a huge difference.

Because of the Atlanta Falcons game, Prescott showed a severe lack of trust in his protection on the left side of the offensive line the rest of the season. And for good reason because it didn't exist!

In the first half of 2017, he had only thrown four interceptions and that occurred in three games over weeks 2-5. Prior to the Philadelphia Eagles' game in week 10, Prescott had a string of four straight weeks without an interception.

From weeks 10-17 of 2017, Prescott had more interceptions (9) than he had in the first 25 games of his career (8).

The last thing we need to discuss is his sack total.

In 2016, he was sacked 25 times. Over the final eight games of 2017, he was sacked 22 times. Obviously that number is inflated by the Atlanta game where he was sacked eight times.

That's a huge difference.

Only seven quarterbacks who played in more than 12 games for their team were sacked fewer. Tom Brady, Derek Carr, Ben Roethlisberger, Ryan Fitzpatrick, (?!?!?!), Marcus Mariota, and .

In 2017, only 13 quarterbacks were sacked more times than Dak Prescott's 32.

Comfort level makes a difference for a quarterback and for the first 24 games of his career, Prescott was kept relatively clean. Over the last eight games, he was under duress non-stop.

Yes, the final seven games of Prescott's 2017 were bad. You ever see a baseball player get up to the plate when he's in a slump and it just looks like he's pressing? That was Dak Prescott in the second half of last year.

Nothing was working and he was pressing to make anything work and a lot of times it didn't go well. Of course, drops by his receivers certainly didn't help.

So, when we look at Dak and we're looking to project his future play, we have to make a decision, is he the player from the first 24 games of his career or the player from the final eight games of 2017?

Just going to leave these splits here for you to peruse (courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com).

2018 Cowboys: Projecting Dak Prescott's Production

2018 Cowboys: Projecting Dak Prescott's Production 1

Did you know that before the week nine assault and battery by Adrian Clayborn with as an accomplice that Dak Prescott was on pace to rush for 10 rushing touchdowns in 2017?

In each of his first two seasons in the NFL, Dak rushed for six rushing touchdowns. So, while you may think his passing touchdown mark isn't all that exceptional, consider that he'll get you at least half a dozen scores with his legs.

Does Dak Prescott have weaknesses, absolutely, most quarterbacks do. His mobility, however, is a huge strength to his game.

Not only can he move well and run well, but he's big and strong. He can take on DBs and safeties in the secondary and has enough agility to make people miss. And unlike Robert Griffin III, Dak knows how to slide.

Jason Witten, FOX Sports, and the Future at Tight End for the Dallas Cowboys
Dallas Cowboys TE Jason Witten (James D. Smith/Dallas Cowboys)

Cowboys Roster Subtractions

Jason Witten and Dez Bryant are gone from a that had become stale and stagnant. No disrespect to those two guys, who had tremendous careers with the Dallas Cowboys, but Dez Bryant wasn't working anymore and Jason Witten was losing effectiveness.

You didn't have to watch the All-22 game film to see it either.

Whether it was an age-related decline or it was the lack of chemistry between Dez and Dak or both, the connection was inconsistent.

Still an effective player, Jason Witten was experiencing age-related decline. He just wasn't getting open with as much regularity as he had earlier in his career.

What can we say, age happens.

While those are the most obvious changes to the offense, it could be argued that Dak not having to worry about getting Dez the ball could be a positive for his development.

Dez is like a shooting guard in basketball who needs to have the ball in his hands and be the primary option for scoring. Dak is more of the point guard who wants to get the ball to the open man regardless of their standing on the team.

With the Bryant and Witten departures, the Dallas Cowboys have 219 targets to fill. That's nearly half of Dak Prescott's passing attempts that will have to be redistributed. Who steps in to fill the void remains a big question, but there are capable players on the roster, for sure.

Cowboys Roster Additions

First and foremost, Dak Prescott will have his running buddy back without having a suspension looming over him. There's just something about having your best friend in the huddle. When he's not there, it makes a difference. Ezekiel Elliott will be available for all 16 games this season  — barring — and that will make the offense better.

Changes to the Offensive Line

Tyron Smith is getting healthy, but back issues are always around. They don't ever “heal,” they just become more manageable. The improvement they made along the offensive line was in adding two guys (Cameron Fleming and ) who are immediate upgrades as backup options.

Cameron Fleming was the starting for the during their Super Bowl run, while Connor Williams was an All-American left tackle his freshmen and sophomore years at the University of Texas.

Connor Williams will start at , which is an upgrade over and will improve the protection Dak Prescott receives from the left side of his offensive line. Better protection means better pockets from which to throw from.

If Tyron Smith or were to suffer an injury, they are in better shape to manage their absence than they were in 2017 with Chaz Green and .

Changes to the Wide Receiver Group

The other thing they did this offseason was bring in several guys who use quickness, speed, and route-running precision to get open, as well as a who preaches route running technique above everything else.

Michael Gallup, , , , and even Tavon Austin are quick wide receivers who use that quickness and route running ability to get open.

Adding them to Cole Beasley gives the Dallas Cowboys a stable of receivers who will create a lot of easy and efficient completions for Dak Prescott.

He's always been a “take what the gives you” quarterback, but with Dez, he had to launch too many 50-50 balls to make that relationship work. It was obvious that Dak was never comfortable with the arrangement.

Putting it All Together

I'm operating under the assumption that Dak Prescott is the player we saw over the first 24 games of his career. Because of that, my projections will mostly gather from that time frame, given that he'll have better depth to offer him protection if there were an injury along the offensive line.

On the passing yardage front, I'm going to say Dak Prescott stays around his first 24-game average — minus the 2016 week 17 Eagles game — that has him at roughly 236 passing yards per game. He'll probably throw for 235 to 245 yards per game.

The Dallas Cowboys are a run-first team and they will use the run to set up the pass. It's unlikely that Dak will throw the ball 40 times a game and have a ton of 300-yard passing games, but he'll flirt with 4,000 yards passing and come up just shy.

As for touchdowns, Prescott has thrown a touchdown at a rate of 1.56 per game (excluding the week 17 game in 2016 where he played only two series).

At that rate, over a 16-game season, that puts him at about 25 passing touchdowns. He was on pace for 32 touchdown passes in the first half of 2017, and that severely dropped off over the last eight weeks when the offense seemingly fell apart.

He's rushed for six touchdowns in each of the first two seasons of his career, but in 2017 was on pace for 10 rushing touchdowns over his first eight games of the season. 10 rushing touchdowns for a quarterback would be a tremendous season, it's only happened six times since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970 and only twice since 2003; both by Cam Newton.

It's unlikely Prescott would have reached that number, but had the offense stayed in decent shape over the second half of the season, eight rushing touchdowns for 2017 wouldn't have been out of the question.

Dak Prescott Should Be In The MVP Conversation
Dallas Cowboys QB Dak Prescott (Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)

Projecting Dak Prescott's 2018 Performance

Like I said with Ezekiel Elliott a few weeks ago, it's difficult to project what's going to happen in a football game. The game flow and  both have an effect on what a player's contribution will be to his football team.

Here's my educated guess about what I think Dak Prescott will do in 2018.

Final Projections: Goes 325/490 for 3,776 yards and 27 touchdowns, 50 carries for 300 yards, 8 rushing touchdowns, and 6 interceptions with a passer rating  of 102. 

✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

Again, I see Dak Prescott as the quarterback we saw for the first 24 games of his career and think he can return to that level of play. Especially with an improved offensive line and Ezekiel Elliott available for all 16 games.

I know some of you are going to tell me I'm drinking that Silver and Blue Kool-Aid, and maybe I am a bit, but when you look at the numbers he put up over the first 24 games of his career, you can't help but see a good and capable quarterback.

They can and will win games with Dak Prescott.

John Williams
John Williamshttps://anchor.fm/inside-the-cowboys
Dallas Cowboys optimist bringing factual, reasonable takes to Cowboys Nation and the NFL Community. I wasn't always a Cowboys fan, but I got here as quick as I could. Make sure you check out the Inside The Cowboys Podcast featuring John Williams and other analysts following America's Team.

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Sexcdex Xfact

Pink kool-aid, black, silver & blue,,,,,,
It’s not hype my fellow stat-supported fan
Putting both blame & credit in their perspective places afford your humble assessments & projections for young Mr Prescott
Those who doubt are mostly the same crowd who blames coaching, Dez, & the fact that Dallas’ ’17 O line has lost 2 premier starters prior to any injury/suspension took place, (Leary & Free)
Now
Dallas’s O line has been upgraded & since it were said that Dez’s production could be replaced with cheaper personnel,
I feel we now can excel in the WR dept also due to not being hamstrung by aging vets who also kept back productivity if younger talent, (ER/TE

John Williams

To me it’s the work ethic and leadership ability. He seems to rise to the occasion. Getting off to a quick start will be important for him and the offense though.

Sexcdex Xfact

Dak’s been putting in the work with Qb gurus, trainers, strength & conditioning, Qb coaches & he’s he’s own best critic
The best O line list (2) light starters unexpectedly in ’17
The fill-ins were break as a while & inconsistent
Then Zeke’s suspension & probowlers Smith & Martin’s injuries all simultaneously shook the young gun sophomore Qb
He’s back with a revamped team as a whole
Dallas will reestablish themselves
Let us be patient & we’ll see it this season
Including the very promising Dak Prescott

Troy airman admits Prescott is further along in 2 full seasons than every other DC QB
&
All but 3 NFL Qb’s to boot as well
Let nature take its course

Mr. Jaguar

John count me in wholeheartedly in agreement with your assessment of the Dak Attack friendly offense for the next ten years. I’m drinking the whole silver and blue pitcher of the Dak Attack kool aid. Yes Sir!! Cowboys nation should be excited about the Cowboys becoming the first NFL Team to win 3 dynasties.
Imho, the glory days of the70’s and 90’s are returning under the Prescott era. Dak after it’s all said and done, will be spoken in the same breath as Staubach and Aikman, as the all time greats @ quarterback, for the Dallas Cowboys.
2018 season, is just the beginning of great things to come, for the Cowboys organization. Imho, the 22years of being stuck in NFL Purgatory with mediocrity will come to an end, as the Cowboys return to their rightful place of being the Gold standard for NFL teams. The Boyz are Back in Town!!

John Williams

Man oh man do I hope you’re right.

Derrick Gibson

Dak will be fine — as long as he has Tyron Smith healthy. And don’t be so fatalistic about backs. LeBron James just played every one of 82 regular season games, plus leadibg his team to the finals, all while playing more minutes per game than anyone else. Just a few years ago, that performance would have been thought impossible.
http://www.espn.com/nba/story/_/id/22778062/how-lebron-james-fixed-back-track-play-all-82-games-nba

Get the Best Offensive Line in the game to do what it is supposed to do and we will all be able to watch Dak shine.

John Williams

Wasn’t trying to be fatalistic about his back, just trying to be realistic that those things can linger.

Sexcdex Xfact

True dat
And this is why they got NE patriots starting tackle as a swing tackle & Martin & Co to shore up the O line
Dallas refuses to be caught completely pants down while Philly showed better preparation
Smith is reportedly better than ever in several years
I’ve neck & back issues
SERIOUS to say the least so serve you right for being concerned
Dallas has ligit backup this go round however

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