What a difference a year makes. In 2016, Dak Prescott was a lightly regarded prospect and seen as a not-very-exciting selection by the Dallas Cowboys. In 2017, he is the gold standard for quarterback comparisons going into the 2017 NFL Draft. And that is not sitting particularly well with some, including top prospect Deshaun Watson
Now, he's one of the top quarterback prospects heading into the 2017 NFL Draft. He's already drawing comparisons to Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott, who led the Cowboys to the best record in the NFC in his first season.
North Carolina defensive coordinator Gene Chizik told FOX Sports' Stewart Mandel, "Dak Prescott is kind of what I see Deshaun being, a guy that comes in, he's a football guy, he picks it up well and becomes successful early in his career." An NFL scout told NFL.com's Chase Goodbread that the confidence between Prescott and Watson were similar as well.
Watson doesn't see how Dak's success affects him. He deflected it when asked about it at the Forth Worth Club while being recognized as a Davey O'Brien Award recipient.
"I wouldn't go off what Dak did," Watson said via the Star-Telegram. "I'm not Dak Prescott. I'm not with the Cowboys. I'm Deshaun Watson, coming from Clemson."
He may not like the comparisons to Prescott, but that doesn't mean Watson, who was in Fort Worth to pick up the Davey O'Brien Award as the top collegiate quarterback, would not like to be with the Cowboys.
"I told you, I promised you, that I'll be back here," Watson told a crowd of apparently adoring guests. "And I told Coach Garrett that if I'm back here, if I'm back here, you have to draft me. So I know it's a lot of Cowboy fans. Tony Romo's healthy. Dak [Prescott], I'm a huge fan. Love that man. Had the privilege to get to know him this year and text him over the year. He's been successful. You fell in love with him. But hey, I did my part, you've have to do your part. We'll talk. I'll see you at the Combine. So we'll talk more about that."
The quarterbacks in the draft class are not the only ones being affected by the Season of Dak. Hot trade target Jimmy Garoppolo is also seeing his opportunities affected, in a very positive way for him.
There's a desperation that's sweeping the league when it comes to finding a quarterback, greater than I've seen in a long time. One front-office executive called it the Dak Prescott Phenomenon.
Prescott was a big reason the Cowboys transformed their franchise, and some people in football think Garoppolo can do the same. This is a massive assumption, but, again, teams may think it's worth the risk and the high price it would take.
Although his selection was overshadowed by the stellar campaigns of Dak and Zeke, Maliek Collins was the third Cowboy rookie named to the Next Gen Stats All-Rookie Team, partly due to having the fastest time between snap and getting the QB among all rookies at 4.28 seconds.
Collins' sack performance was the third best of all-time for the franchise and the best from a Cowboys rookie since Demarcus Ware tallied eight sacks in 2005 coming out of Troy. It was the most for an interior rookie player since Jimmie Jones recorded 7.5 in 1990.
In addition to getting excellent production last year from draftees Ezekiel Elliott, Dak Prescott, Maliek Collins and Anthony Brown, there is great hope that second round pick Jaylon Smith will be a big contributor after sitting out the year due to his serious knee injury. He has been whetting the appetite of Cowboys Nation with his workout videos.
This much is certain: he's an easy guy to root for.
"We had a great feel for what he is as an individual," team owner/general manager Jerry Jones said in January. "Now this guy is a leader. He's got the stuff that Dak's got in terms of leadership."
He's got an incredibly positive attitude, too -extraordinary for a player in his situation. The "clear-eye view" Smith lives by -"a focused vision and a determined belief in earned dreams" was his definition back in training camp - clearly helps him push through the toughest challenge of his football career.
While the Cowboys are definitely looking to upgrade their defensive line this offseason, last year's free agent pickup Benson Mayowa may also have a big role, despite having to be motivated by being benched for three straight games after a poor start to the season.
The good part for Mayowa was that he was the most productive pass-rusher on the team in 2016. An even better part was that he didn't even play a full 16-game schedule and still registered a team-high six sacks. He was also tied for third on the squad with five tackles for loss, a sign that he was more than just an edge rusher.
We all know that the Cowboys failed to adequately address their lack of pressure on the quarterback last year. Some felt they should have used an approach more like that of the New York Giants, who spent big to do just that. But consider this from Todd Archer.
A funny thing happened to me on Tuesday while scrolling through the internet. Somewhere it was mentioned that the Dallas Cowboys had more sacks in 2016 than the New York Giants.
Honestly, I can't remember where I read that, but I immediately thought that was incorrect.
The Giants invested heavily on the defensive line before the 2016 season, re-signing Jason Pierre-Paul and adding Olivier Vernon with an $85 million contract. The Giants also signed defensive tackle Damon Harrison. Certainly they had more sacks than the Cowboys, right?
The Cowboys had 36. The Giants had 35.
As a minor aside, the Patriots and Falcons both had 34 sacks in 2016.
With the NFL dragging its feet on finishing their, as Mike Fisher puts it, "Barney-Fife-caliber" investigation of the domestic violence accusation against Ezekiel Elliott, he has become a lightening rod for negative publicity, such as the erroneous claim by TMZ that he was "detained" by the police at a nightclub in Columbus, Ohio. Fisher, as usual, throws some cold, hard facts on that little blaze.
The details that exonerate Elliott in this case:
The Dallas Morning News reports that the Columbus Police note that a bar patron was carrying a pistol and claiming to be "Elliott's brother.'' When Elliott learned of the arrest, he spoke to the individual, Alvarez Jackson (who may indeed be an acquaintance of Elliott's) and spoke to police. He was neither stopped nor detained.
Darren Woodson has been overlooked so far by the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but he has been recognized by the Texas Sports Hall of Fame.
On Tuesday, Woodson and Wade Phillips - the team's head coach from 2007-10 - became the most recent former Cowboys inducted into the Texas Sports Hall of Fame, which recognizes great contributions to sports in the state.
"It's a great honor. It's a blessing," Woodson said. "I've seen so many guys come through here, the Texas Hall of Fame, whether it be Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin, Larry Allen, and everyone always had positive things to say about coming to Waco and seeing the Texas Hall of Fame.
"Just to walk around and see the history of this state, people in this state should be proud of the great athletes and great coaches that have come through here."
Woodson certainly knows a lot about secondary play, and his take on the second season for Byron Jones is worth considering - and very encouraging.
On whether Byron Jones should move to corner: "No. To me, he's the MVP of the defense. I know Sean Lee gets a lot of credit, but you're asking Byron Jones to play three different positions. He's playing the safety spot. When Orlando Scandrick goes down, he's coming in to the nickel. He's covering the slot receiver. Sometimes he's coming in to play corner. He covers the tight end on matchups. He does everything for that team. I can't tell you how hard that is. I know personally how hard that is, because I played the safety position, corner, slot, the linebacker as well. It's a hard transition to go from one hat to the next in the same game. You really have to be mentally checked in. Byron Jones is in his second year, and you're asking him to do a lot. To me he's the MVP of that defense.