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2018 Cowboys: Projecting Dak Prescott’s Production

John Williams

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Dak Prescott Should Be In The MVP Conversation
Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

Dak Prescott 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 Tony Romo 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 offense got in a hole early to the Green Bay  --Aaron Rodgers' -- Packers in the divisional round, 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 Tom Brady, who played in 12 games that season because of his #deflategate suspension, had fewer interceptions with two. Colin Kaepernick played in the final 12 games for the San Francisco 49ers 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 Tyron Smith and Ezekiel Elliott 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, Eli Manning (?!?!?!), Marcus Mariota, and Kirk Cousins.

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 Chaz Green 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 passing game 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 injury -- 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 Connor Williams) who are immediate upgrades as backup tackle options.

Cameron Fleming was the starting right tackle for the New England Patriots 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 left guard, which is an upgrade over Jonathan Cooper 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 La'el Collins were to suffer an injury, they are in better shape to manage their absence than they were in 2017 with Chaz Green and Byron Bell.

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 wide receivers coach who preaches route running technique above everything else.

Michael Gallup, Allen Hurns, Deonte Thompson, Cedric Wilson, 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 defense 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 game plan 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.



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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PFF Ranks Cowboys Run Defense 13th In The NFL

Kevin Brady

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Leighton Vander Esch, Jaylon Smith

The Cowboys duo of young linebackers took the NFL by storm in 2018.

Rookie Leighton Vander Esch and former second round pick Jaylon Smith played well above expectations, as for the first time in years Dallas did not face a significant drop off in defensive production when Sean Lee was out and injured.

These young linebackers are the cornerstone of a run defense which should be among the league's best going forward, and Pro Football Focus agrees. Well, somewhat agrees.

PFF ranked all 32 run defenses heading into the 2019 season, slotting the Cowboys 13th overall. Better than half the league, but not quite top 10.

https://twitter.com/PFF_Cowboys/status/1151155572059717632

PFF's reasoning behind this ranking certainly makes sense, as they credit the young linebacker duo without mentioning much of what will be in front of them helping to stop opposing running games.

"The Cowboys’ run defense begins and ends with the league’s best young linebacker duo. Leighton Vander Esch ranked third in run-stop percentage as a rookie while Jaylon Smith checked in at 29th."

The playoff loss in Los Angeles has left a bad taste about the Cowboys' interior defensive line in a lot of mouths, but I do think they've improved the unit this offseason. Signing Christian Covington and drafting Trysten Hill was a nice start to do so, but having Maliek Collins healthy and Antwaun Woods back for a full season will also go a long way.

Interestingly enough, two of the Cowboys divisional foes came in ranked above them on this list. Washington was slotted as the 12th best run defense, while Philadelphia was placed at number 8. Both teams' units deserve respect, of course, but this further highlights how difficult it could be to run the ball in the NFC East this season.

While I hate simply throwing this term around, analytics suggest that passing is what wins games in the NFL. Passing and stopping the pass, I should say.

With strong run defenses in their division, the Cowboys will need to maximize their passing game efficiency if they want to repeat as NFC East champions.



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3 Reasons Amari Cooper is Primed for an All-Pro Season

Matthew Lenix

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3 Reasons Amari Cooper is Primed for an All-Pro Season

Amari Cooper changed life for the entire Dallas Cowboys offense in 2018. Finally, Quarterback Dak Prescott has the number one option at wide receiver he's desperately needed since his rookie campaign. Now, after half a season and multiple playoff games under his belt in Dallas, Cooper is set to have a monster year. Here are three specific reasons why.

1. Culture

Head Coach Jason Garrett has established a certain way of doing things in Dallas since taking over in 2010. His constant search for the RKG or "Right Kinda Guy" as he puts it has the culture in the locker room at a very positive and productive place. As criticized as he is, justifiably or not, he has his team all on the same page. This is something Cooper has been trying to find since he entered the league in 2015. An organization with the right mindset in order for him to perform and maximize his skill set. After being traded to Dallas, Cooper opened up in November about being unhappy during his days in Oakland.

"I wasn't really happy in Oakland or anything like that. But when I sat and thought about it [Monday} night, I thought about the fact that they traded me away. I don't know how to feel about it," Cooper told Yahoo Sports.

This may seem small to others considering these players make millions of dollars right? Well, it doesn't change the fact that they're human. When you feel unappreciated you don't play to the best of your abilities. Shortly after the trade, Cooper talked about how he's been different since putting a star on his helmet. "I feel like it did change me, as far as having that chip on my shoulder. Not that I wasn't passionate before, but playing with more passion, trying to intentionally have fun out there. It definitely has changed me, in terms of me going out there and just having fun with it," Cooper said. A change of scenery was just what the doctor ordered for Cooper and the Cowboys.

2. The other weapons around him

The Cowboys aren't just Amari Cooper or bust at the wide receiver position. Michael Gallup and Randall Cobb provide more challenges for defenses on a weekly basis. Gallup has firmly locked down the number two spot on the depth chart. It took a while for him to establish chemistry with Dak Prescott, as they would misfire on several big plays during the first half of the season. Nonetheless, by seasons end things started to pick up, and he finished with 33 receptions for 507 yards and 2 touchdowns. In the playoffs, he scored a touchdown in the Cowboys Wild Card win over Seattle. The next week against the Rams he performed well even in defeat, with 6 receptions for 119 yards. He's got speed, size, and versatility. Now with a full season and two games of playoff experience under his belt, I look for even more production from Gallup, as a possible breakout star.

Randall Cobb is a much-needed upgrade in the slot for the Cowboys. Unlike former receiver Cole Beasley, Cobb can line up inside or outside. Giving new Offensive Coordinator Kellen Moore a bigger bag of tricks at his disposal. Now, he can lineup Cooper inside or outside and play with a plethora of different looks, keeping defenses off balance because of the uncertainty of how the Cowboys will attack through the air.

Then, of course, there's Ezekiel Elliott. The two-time rushing champion is the tone-setter on offense and dictates how defenses will attack. With Cooper being such a threat in the air you basically have to pick your poison. 8-9 man fronts against the run can make you vulnerable to play action down the field or quick slants with Cooper's exceptional route running. The more productive Elliott is the more honest it keeps opposing defenses, opening up more opportunities in the passing game. Averaging 101.2 yards per game for his career, second all-time to Hall of Famer Jim Brown, Elliott can make create even more opportunities for Cooper in 2019 with a full season of playing time together.

3. Motivation

Amari Cooper is currently looking to sign a long-term deal with the Cowboys. Preferably, both sides would like to get this deal done before the season starts considering he's in the last year of his rookie contract that is set to pay him 13.9 million in 2019. However, it isn't just a new deal that motivates Cooper heading into the new season.

"It's kind of a weird situation, just being that I've never been in this situation before, talking about a contract. But also, I'm under a fifth-year option, so I'm not too familiar with it. I really don't ask my agent many questions. I'm not really worried about it that much. I'm more focused on actually playing and really earning the respect and then the contract," Cooper said.

Being motivated by earning respect is a very mature approach from Cooper. Now, add that to the fact that I'm sure he wants to firmly put his name alongside Julio Jones, Antonio Brown, DeAndre Hopkins, Odell Beckham Jr, and Michael Thomas as the best receivers in the game, you have a fully motivated number one option heading into the new season.

Amari Cooper has already made three pro bowls, but now there's another level for him to reach. In just nine games last year with the Cowboys he caught 53 passes for 725 yards and 6 touchdowns. Also, he caught another 13 on 18 targets in the playoffs for 171 yards and a score. He's in the right culture, he has a number of other weapons around him and he has multiple reasons to be motivated heading in the new season. With a full offseason of building chemistry with Dak Prescott, I see Cooper taking that leap to the All-Pro level in 2019.



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Is La’el Collins Playing For A Contract On A Different Team?

Kevin Brady

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Cowboys at Raiders: La'el Collins Faces Toughest Test Yet In Khalil Mack

How good is La'el Collins?

This is a question that Cowboys fans have disagreed on since his rookie season. Collins, who originally joined the team as their left guard replacing an injured Ronald Leary in 2015, moved out to right tackle in 2017, starting all 32 games there the last 2 seasons.

Collins' play has been somewhat up-and-down, as should be expected when a lineman not only switches from guard to tackle, but from the left side to the right side as well. Still, he's been a solid right tackle and a stable presence for a Cowboys offensive line which has struggled with major injuries at other positions over the last couple of years.

While Collins has not been the "elite" level player fans had hoped for when signed after the 2015 draft, he's been a solid player nonetheless. Dak Prescott has faced more pressure from the right side of the line than the left, but a good portion of that pressure has to do with him struggling to sense pressure from that right side.

The Dallas Cowboys seem rather undecided about La'el Collins' future with the team themselves, though. Dallas went out and draft guard Connor McGovern in the third round of the 2019 draft, starting the whirlwind of rumors that McGovern will be the starting left guard in 2020. This would kick second year player Connor Williams out to right tackle, allowing Dallas to let Collins walk without too much worry.

While this is well and good on paper, on the field the transition will likely not be as smooth. We've already seen how tough it is to move from left guard to right tackle in just one offseason, even if you were a college tackle once upon a time. Connor Williams could face these same struggles, despite possibly even anticipating the change a year out.

Regardless, La'el Collins is now in a contract year and is playing for that new deal come 2020. Dallas may not be looking to extend him, mostly due to the plethora of new deals they'll be handing out to other players, but he will be a hot commodity come free agency if and when he hits the open market.

Collins could very well be playing for a new contract elsewhere this season, as his days in Dallas look to be numbered.



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