Offseason NFL rankings are more about stirring discussion and sometimes controversy than anything. As J.J. Watt observed about one such ranking, the list of the top 100 players according to other players assembled by NFL.com , these can sometimes be a bit of a joke. But they get a lot of attention, which is after all why they are done. Another one that is getting a lot of play is that of CBS Sports’ Pete Prisco. His list of the top 100 players, unlike the NFL list, does attempt to project what the players should mean to the teams this season, which takes out some of the impact of injuries from last year.
The Cowboys do very well overall, with six player making his list:
- Ezekiel Elliott is his highest ranked Cowboys, and the number one overall running back, coming in at #14.
- Zack Martin is likewise the top guard on his list at #18.
- Tyron Smith slid this year after having some injury limitations in 2016, and is the second highest tackle on the list at #30.
- Travis Frederick completes the OL trifecta for Dallas, coming at #47 as the highest ranked center. When you have two number ones and a number two at their position lining up on your OL, it’s a very good thing.
- Dez Bryant makes the list at #74, as the eighth best wide receiver. This seems to have been influenced by his injury issues last season as well, but is probably not a bad ranking for him - until the pads come on.
- Sean Lee is the only Dallas defender to make Pricso’s ranking, at #79. Since he is lumped in with 3-4 OLBs like Von Miller, this is actually a pretty strong ranking for him.
But notable, at least to a Cowboys homer like me, is who was missing. Namely, Dak Prescott.
Prisco did not consider Dallas’ QB as one of the 100 best players in the league, but he listed 10 others passers. And the “just missed” list he had at the end of his article had two more. So he does not think Dak makes even the top dozen at his position.
You have to wonder what he based that on. Statistically, Prescott did not run up a big yards total, but in most other categories, he was near the top of the league (according to the stats kept by ESPN). Fourth in completion percentage. Fourth in yards per attempt. His four interceptions were second lowest of all starters, behind Tom Brady. His 104.9 passer rating was third among starters, behind Brady and Matt Ryan. He didn’t amass huge yards or a large number of touchdowns because those loads were shared with Ezekiel Elliott.
Well, stats scouting has its problems. But Prisco likes to cite the video. Did he not notice just how incredibly poised and smooth Prescott was in most games? Was he unimpressed by his decision making, which arguably was top two or three based on the touchdown to interception ratio? Maybe Prisco knocked off points because of that superb offensive line, which did often give Prescott time to pull out a cell phone and call Scott Linehan to review his reads. Yeah, more pressure would have really impacted his game.
The four most productive QBs against the blitz.— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) June 4, 2017
Which one would you want as your signal caller? pic.twitter.com/vDa30sxWpR
Or, well, maybe not.
Something that is clearly not taken into consideration is just how well Prescott took on the most crucial job in the NFL for the most visible and scrutinized franchise despite being thrown into the fire with little warning. He came to the Cowboys as the number three quarterback, with his projected rookie ceiling being to push Kellen Moore for the QB2 job. Suddenly, he was the starter. The team decided to roll with him rather than look for a veteran fill-in, based largely on the promise Dak showed in preseason. He started the year with a pared-down playbook, but Linehan added more as the weeks rolled by and it was clear that Prescott could handle things.
Quarterbacks take way too much credit or blame for their team’s wins and losses, but in this case, Prisco seems dismissive of the 13 regular season wins. It just makes little sense that a player who faced the incredible challenge Prescott did, established himself as a confident leader from the start, and succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest expectations should be considered no better than 13th in the league at his position - no matter how much talent surrounded him in the huddle.
It is, in short, quite wonderful.
Yes, wonderful. Because, although not universal, there is a sense that many just do not expect Dak to continue his trajectory, but to fall prey to that dreaded “sophomore slump”. Now, most of that is among the media, since coaching staffs wisely do not comment on such things. But supposedly people like Prisco take into consideration what they hear from various people in the league. It is a reasonable assumption to think that at least some of the coaches out there also see Prescott’s rookie season as something of a fluke that they will be able to nullify with some video study of his game.
You know, just like they were going to bring him down to earth with “real” NFL defensive game plans after his spectacular preseason performances.
This offseason, all we have heard about Prescott is how hard he is working, how he is in better shape now than he was when he first reported after being drafted, and things like how he, Zeke, and Dez are putting in extra time together reviewing video to get on the same page. Maybe it is the blue Kool Aid speaking, but I just don’t see him regressing at all. It is more likely that he will turn things up a notch or two and be an even more dangerous passer than he was last year, especially with one or two new weapons in Ryan Switzer and maybe Rico Gathers. And don’t forget that Bryant is healthy now, while he was limited by some injuries last year which also affected his chemistry with Prescott.
So it may be to the Cowboys’ advantage for the conventional wisdom to say that he is likely to fall back a bit. Let people like Prisco have him outside the top twelve quarterbacks in the league. That opinion may not last very long once the games are being played. And if the Dak Doubters are proven wrong, let us just sit back and laugh.