Dak Prescott is not elite. Is he a good quarterback? Absolutely. Is he great? Sometimes he has been. Other times, you’d be hard-pressed to justify him as a top-10 quarterback. This is not meant to be an indictment on Prescott. The Cowboys can win with him. Many teams could win with him. But there are certain deficiencies that still regularly show up in his game and prevent him from gaining the consistency needed to be among the NFL’s best.
You don’t just turn on the consistently switch, though. Instead, it comes from certain traits – vision, coverage recognition, progression reading from the pocket, and anticipation. If you have these skills, receivers in tight-man coverage can still be open and small windows in zone can seem larger. That’s why the best quarterbacks don’t only perform well against the bad teams.
While Dak did improve in 2019, he struggled against better competition:
No, this wasn’t because Prescott doesn’t have the clutch gene, or isn’t a winner, or any other nonsense like that. This was because the attributes needed to excel consistently against the best competition aren’t always there for Prescott.
As good as Prescott was on throws downfield in 2019, he inexplicably missed some easy completions. He is too imprecise at times, and this leads to missed opportunities or worse. On this below interception against the Packers, for instance, Dak had a wide open receiver but put the ball behind him.
This ball should have been caught, but it wasn’t exactly an accurate throw. A better pass might have been 6 here.
The below incompletion came on 3rd down against the best defense in the league.
You have to hit those throws, especially against teams where opportunities are generally limited.
Below is another pass that Dak has to start being 100% on to gain more consistency and keep drives going, which will only lead to more opportunities.
Again, that had big-play potential.
As is the case with all quarterbacks, losing your throwing base leads to mistakes. Prescott goes through stretches where he gets a little sloppy with his feet (Think back to 2018). The below interception is a great example. Prescott fell away from this throw unnecessarily, despite a clean pocket.
Yes, the snap was high, disrupting him initially. But Prescott had time to settle. You can’t be less than precise when throwing into a tiny window against Stephon Gilmore. The less Prescott loses his feet like this, the fewer mistakes he’ll make. And that will enable him to take the next step.
Vision & Anticipation
One area of needed improvement to Prescott’s game that we’ve focused on before is his ability to see the entire field and anticipate throws. At times, he makes inexplicable decisions that indicate he wasn’t clearly seeing the field and deciphering the coverage. It’s not excessive or completely debilitating, but it’s enough to keep him out of that upper-echelon of quarterbacks. Below is a great example.
I’m not sure what Dak saw here. He had all the time in the world and didn’t seem to recognize the Tampa-2 zone coverage. It wasn’t exactly a deceptive look by the defense.
Vision and anticipation are related. To be able to anticipate throws, you have to be able to see the field. It’s not about knowing where defenders are, but rather, where they are GOING TO BE. NFL quarterbacks need to be able to do this under any circumstance, but it’s especially important when the pocket is caving in around them and there are open receivers downfield.
On the below play, keep your eyes on the slot wide receiver to the left.
Yes, Prescott was under duress, but he had time to make this throw right before his receiver turned his head around. Remember what we said earlier about performing against the better defenses in the league? Making anticipation throws in the face of pressure is one way to make that happen.
By comparison, Philip Rivers has made a career out of completing passes from smaller pockets than that.
Below is another example of a missed opportunity due to not seeing the coverage and anticipating where the open receiver would be. Here, the Eagles were playing Cover-3 and locking up the backside corner in man-to-man coverage. The free safety in the middle of the field and the corner on the bottom of the screen were in zone. The Cowboys had a route-concept designed to attack the free safety.
At the top of his drop, Prescott looked right. The safety moved that way with him. With the backside corner locked up in man and with the rest of the underneath coverage in zone, Jason Witten was about to be wide open.
Prescott stayed to his right, though, and attempted a pass that had a much higher degree of difficulty.
Prescott missed this opportunity because he failed to read the coverage and anticipate the holes in response to the routes called.
One thing he also could have done on this play was use a shoulder roll or pump fake to move that safety even further out of the middle, before coming back to Witten. Manipulating coverage is another next step to Dak’s game that will make him a better quarterback. However, it’s a trait tied to seeing the field more clearly and being able to anticipate.
Again, Dak Prescott is a good quarterback. We’ve seen him improve throughout his 4-year NFL career, which is a good sign. He made plenty of impressive throws last season and certainly upped his value. But we’re also 64+ starts into his career. With few exceptions, quarterbacks don’t undergo drastic changes from that point forward.
To this point, Prescott has had more help around him than most other young quarterbacks. He’s consistently had one of the best running games in the league (3rd-most yards and 2nd-most yards per attempt since 2016). His offensive line has been among the best in the NFL. He’s had weapons in the passing game. The Cowboys Defense has allowed the 4th fewest points since he entered the league, keeping Dallas in most games.
I have difficulty believing Dak Prescott won’t be in a Cowboys uniform for the long term. It seems like a monstrous contract is coming at some point. Is he really good enough to justify it, though, since spending more on Prescott will limit the Cowboys’ ability to build in the future? Is he the type of quarterback that can elevate the lesser talent that will inevitably be placed around him?
In the end, it probably doesn’t matter. The Cowboys don’t have any decent alternatives. Which is why Dallas needs to hope that Prescott flourishes in Mike McCarthy’s system and improves into an elite quarterback, because he’ll likely be paid like one soon.
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