The NFL year is almost done. The Pro Bowl and Super Bowl are the only games remaining (if you are a bit generous in how you consider the all-star affair in Orlando this week). Then we will have free agency, followed by the biggest thing outside of the season, the NFL Draft. Last year, the Dallas Cowboys had one of the best hauls anyone can remember, and the real gem of the class was Dak Prescott, the rookie quarterback who played like a seasoned and very talented veteran. He likely saved the Cowboys from another down season and provides real hope for the next decade or more. But his impact may reach far beyond the Dallas area. His success may influence several of the teams that need a franchise quarterback. Charlie Campbell at Walter Football has a name for it (and he is not the only one throwing the term around).
Sources from multiple teams believe that during the lead up to the 2017 NFL Draft, there will be a "Dak Prescott Effect" on the draft stock of Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson. In speaking with a general manager of a team in the quarterback market, they felt that there was a lot of good and bad to the Watson evaluation. So much of Clemson's offense is determined pre-snap that Watson will need a lot of development for fitting a pro-style offense. That general manager said he went back and watched some tape of Prescott at Mississippi State and saw some of the flaws that made Prescott a fourth-round pick. This sourse [sic] said Watson does similar things on tape, so the question is he can overcome the flaws like Prescott did so quickly as a rookie. Teams believe that the success of Prescott is going to be discussed in relation to Watson in draft meetings, which will help Watson's stock come April.
Watson has a good arm, a quick release, athleticism, and great intangibles. Sources believe that he will interview well with teams, too. Thus, some quarterback-needy team could easily overdraft him ... or maybe one team avoids the mistake of 2016 when all 32 franchises let Prescott get past their first three picks. The Cowboys got lucky with Prescott after their attempted trades for Paxton Lynch and Connor Cook didn't work out. With the "Dak Prescott Effect" weighing on the decision, Watson is a very difficult evaluation for teams around the NFL.
While this specifically refers to the prospects of Deshaun Watson, it is something that may also creep into the thinking regarding other quarterbacks coming out of college this season. Prescott ran completely counter to conventional thinking in becoming an immediate and remarkably successful starter despite being selected so late in the draft. Given how crucial a true franchise signal caller/passer is for NFL teams (just look at the four quarterbacks who played in the divisional round last Sunday), teams that don’t have one now have reason to dig a little deeper in evaluating the available talent. They can seek to find their own hidden gem. This will also be something in the back of the minds of even teams that have a solid starter, as they look for backup and developmental quarterbacks. The entire QB class may benefit - if they can impress the scouts and coaches enough.
The problem they all face is that Prescott may just be the kind of talent that only comes along every decade or so. Even if he is not quite that good, most drafts certainly see at most one or two like him.
But he has also cast some serious doubts on how well all the scouting departments do, especially at the QB position. Remember, EVERYONE, including Dallas, passed on him more than once. There were 134 players taken before him, and it is hard to argue that he was not more valuable to the Cowboys than any of those other players were to their teams - even including Ezekiel Elliott and Joey Bosa. Redraft exercises are putting him at number one overall (although it is horrifying to think what Jeff Fisher might have done to him).
A larger question that he brings up is just how well the scouting process works overall in the NFL. And the answer may be, not very well at all, at least for many or even most teams. All teams have misses, but some seem to have little to no idea how to really identify players that can perform well. Dallas, to its credit, seems to be doing better than most. It has the string of first-round successes of recent years, and the 2016 class boasts Maliek Collins and Anthony Brown as solid hits along with Prescott and Elliott. But that is just not the case for so many other staffs in the league.
Caution has to be used before teams get too ready to take the next Dak in the draft. First, there is only one Dak Prescott, just as there is only one Tom Brady, or Aaron Rodgers, or Matt Ryan. Every quarterback brings a unique combination of skills and attributes to the table, and finding the right fit is nearly as important as getting an accurate read on talent and intelligence. Prescott’s intangibles were perhaps more important to his success than his physical skills, and those are always very, very hard to evaluate correctly.
The teams have to be ready for disappointment, but the ones who are really likely to grossly overestimate the value of potential draftees, especially quarterbacks, are the fan bases. We already see rookies develop cult-like followings, which are almost always left extremely unsatisfied when their favored hero falls short in actual games. But it doesn’t stop them from anointing the next future Hall of Famer the following season.
Prescott’s emergence in Dallas is likely to have some widespread effect on the draft, but it is probably not going to be a good one. Teams likely will be a bit more willing to pull the trigger on quarterbacks they think have something others have not seen. And given how badly so many do at that kind of evaluation, the misses are almost certainly going to far outnumber the hits. The hard truth is that there was a lot more luck involved in the Cowboys getting Prescott than most admit (although the Dallas staff seems to be at least somewhat aware of this).
Expect to see a lot of (lazy) comparisons to Prescott this draft season, and possibly for a few years to come. He is going to have an impact on thinking around the league, and if teams are careless, it is not going to be a good one.
Of course, the Cowboys don’t have to worry about making that mistake. They already hit their jackpot.