As the 2017 NFL season draws near, the Dallas Cowboys will be increasingly scrutinized by fans and the media. This article is the first installment of a series in which I will set out some realistic expectations for various Cowboys players.
The first player up is the face of the franchise, the newest starting quarterback to wear the Dallas Cowboys star on his helmet; Dak Prescott.
What a Rush!
Rushed into action due to injuries for the incumbent starter, Tony Romo, and first backup QB, Kellen Moore, Dak Prescott won 2016 NFL Rookie of the Year honors and turned in a rookie season for the ages.
Prescott tied Ben Roethlisberger's NFL record for wins by a rookie quarterback with 13.
His quarterback rating was third in the NFL in 2016, behind Tom Brady and Matt Ryan — you know, the guys who played in the Super Bowl last year. Prescott was just ahead of Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers, two guys who will likely have their own gold jackets and shrines in Canton within the next decade. Dak's quarterback rating (QBR) of 104.9 set a new rookie record, besting Robert Griffin III's 2012 season.
He played with a poise that is uncommon for rookies in this league, and the determination to successfully lead the Cowboys to several comeback victories.
What he displayed in the playoff loss to the Green Bay Packers is something that should excite Dallas Cowboys fans around the world.
Getting down 25-3 early to the Packers, Dak Prescott was able to rally the team and slowly chip away at the lead. They were eventually able to tie the game and, if not for an epic Jared Cook catch that will be a feature in Aaron Rodgers' Hall of Fame highlight video, your Dallas Cowboys would have had a shot in overtime.
But the past is the past.
It's behind us.
So What do we Have to Look Forward to in Year Two?
The games in which Dak Prescott struggled most were against the New York Giants — both losses, the Philadelphia overtime win, and the Minnesota Vikings win. In both losses to New York, Prescott had them close enough to win. It wasn't great play by him, but Dallas was there with a chance to win in the final few minutes of each game.
Against the Eagles and the Vikings, he and the offense started off slow. But as the game went on, Prescott was able to make big plays to help the team shrug off the slow start and come away with a victory.
Throughout the season, he showed he can make adjustments, battle back from slow starts, and have his team in position to win the game.
Dak Prescott seems to be a natural leader who has already won over the locker room.
Since year one was such an overwhelming success for Dak Prescott, we have to ask: just how high is his ceiling in year two?
Whatever you do, don't fall into the trap of the “sophomore slump” narrative.
Yes, defenses have more tape on Prescott entering his second season. But in turn, Prescott has more tape too, tape of himself against NFL competition and tape on that NFL competition. Prescott knows what needs to improve in his second season. And if 2016 is any evidence, we got a glimpse of the kind of work ethic and commitment he has.
I don't foresee a drop in performance from Dak. He was incredibly efficient and seemed to move the team down the field at will.
A Statistical Jump?
Statistically, he was really good.
He put up a passer rating of 104.9, threw for 3,667 yards, 23 touchdowns, only four interceptions, and he also ran for 282 yards and six touchdowns. I don't anticipate much, if any decline statistically for Prescott in his second year, and here's why…
The Dallas Cowboys are a run-first team.
They are one of the few whose goal at the outset of every game is to get the run game established. This allows them to control time of possession, get a lead, and then use the run game to keep it.
This offense caps Dak Prescott's passing output a bit.
It's definitely possible the numbers see an increase, if only because he will likely play in all 16 games in 2017 (remember he only played a drive in the season finale).
Remember that Tony Romo also played 15 games in a run-first offense — in 2014 — and had just over 3,700 passing yards. Romo threw for more touchdowns (34) than Prescott (23), but if you include Prescott's rushing touchdowns, his 29 total touchdowns wasn't far behind Romo's total.
Because Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys earned a first-place schedule for 2017, there's a good chance they don't see a 13-3 finish this season.
Vegas sports book, Westgate Superbook, has Dallas set at 9.5 wins for this season.
If I were a betting man, I'd take the over.
I do think that nine wins is a solid floor for a team that looks to be getting better despite several key offseason departures. While nine wins is the floor, I think that 12 wins is the ceiling, which would be a good season by anyone's standards.
Where Can He Improve His Game?
Inside The Star Staff Writer Brian Martin described three reasons why Dak Prescott will thrive in 2017. In addition to that, Prescott will improve because he has a few areas with room for improvement.
- First, Prescott showed a lack of awareness at times when facing pressure coming from the right side. He was very good at sensing pressure from his blind side, but struggled from the front side pressure (which is weird, should be the opposite). A full offseason to review 2016 film will allow him to work with quarterback coach Wade Wilson to detect that pressure with better efficiency.
- Secondly, as the season wore on, the team gave Prescott more freedom to use his legs. While I would prefer not to see many designed runs for the quarterback, such as they like to do in Carolina, I would like to see Dak scramble for yards when nothing is available down field.
- The final thing that he can improve on is his accuracy. Don't get me wrong, he was an accurate passer in 2016, but he can be better. Has to figure out how to lead his receivers better so that they will have opportunities for yards after the catch.
The Great Expectations for Dak Prescott
Dak Prescott improves upon his 2016 season and is in the conversation for NFL MVP honors, while leading Dallas to its first Super Bowl victory in more than 20 years.
Realistic Expectations for Dak Prescott
Prescott repeats his 2016 campaign, statistically speaking, while Dallas makes the playoffs as a division winner. The team advances to at least the NFC Championship Game.
The sky is the limit for Dak Prescott in his second year with the Cowboys. A few years down the road we may be talking about the organization shelling out the money to make him the top paid quarterback in the NFL.