In our recent series of “Burning Questions”, question #2 asked - Can Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott Be Better in 2017? The article recounted Dak and Zeke’s incredible performance metrics from 2016 and suggested ways they might be better.
I think the conclusion one would have to draw for Dak Prescott is that he’s likely to be better, given how hard he works, and how driven he is. One very telling story about Dak’s rookie year is how quickly he learned to take snaps under center, something he’d never done at Mississippi State. ...
He may not have better overall stats, or win as many games, as he did as a rookie, given the potential for much tougher competition. But he’s likely to be better.
Another way Zeke could improve would be to be used more in the passing game.
With only 39 targets in his rookie year, Elliott caught 32 passes for 363 yards, an average of over 11 yards per catch.
This relative lack of use in the passing game is why some rate Arizona’s David Johnson as the more valuable running back, as Johnson was targeted an incredible 120 times, (up from 57 targets as a rookie) catching 80 balls for 879 yards. Of course, Zeke outgained Johnson by 392 yards on the ground.
If you combine Johnson’s rushing attempts and passing targets, Arizona attempted to get him the ball 413 times, and he gained 2118 yards from scrimmage, for an average of 5.12 yards per target. Zeke was much more efficient, gaining 1994 yards from scrimmage on 361 rushes and targets, for 5.52 yards per target.
But let’s look at this another way. If you’ve been following along this offseason, we’ve used Pro Football Reference’s Approximate Value (AV) stat numerous times.
Approximate Value (AV) method is an attempt to put a single number on the seasonal value of a player at any position from any year (since 1950).
We’re going to use it again here to compare all-time AV scores for rookie quarterbacks and running backs, with AV scores for those positions in year two.
Let’s look at the best AV scores for rookie quarterbacks.
There have been only four rookie quarterbacks to score AVs of 16 or higher. Compare this with the number of quarterbacks who have attained this number in their second year in the NFL. It is more than double the number — 10.
Moreover, two of the three quarterbacks on this list in their first year were on the list again in their second year — Cam Newton and Russell Wilson. The one who missed - Robert Griffen — suffered a major injury and played in a bit of a gimmick offense that caught the NFL by surprise his rookie season.
This suggests that second year quarterbacks have a somewhat better chance of scoring well than they did as rookie.
Here is the table for rookie running backs with AVs of 16 or higher. Seven running backs achieved that lofty goal their first year.
Now compare that to the totals for second year runners.
Instead of seven running backs scoring 16 AV or higher, we have 27, although only three of the six who could repeat did so (Elliott hasn’t had his second season). The three who missed - Marshall Faulk, Ricky Watters, and Marcus Allen, all scored 13 or more AV in their second campaigns.
So, as a whole, quarterbacks and running backs tend to have higher success in their second seasons. It’s possible that an individual player might not, but even where there has been some slippage, it has been minor.
This bodes well for Dak and Zeke going into their second seasons.