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Dak Prescott was in elite quarterback company last year

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Dak Prescott was above league average in all nine categories tracked by Pro Football Reference.

NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Dallas Cowboys Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Yesterday, Bill Barnwell of ESPN wrote an article asking whether the Detroit Lions should pay the going rate for franchise quarterbacks to retain Matthew Stafford when he hits free agency next year. It’s an interesting question.

In the article, one of the stats he used was Pro Football Reference’s indexing data, which compares quarterbacks to the league average in a number of stats:

  • Completion percentage
  • TD percentage (passing TD)/(passing attempts)
  • Interception percentage (interceptions)/(passing attempts)
  • Quarterback rating (the traditional one, not QBR)
  • Sack percentage (times sacked)/(passing attempts + times sacked)

In addition to these five, they also track several yards per attempt numbers:

  • Yards per attempt
  • Adjusted yards per attempt (Passing Yards + 20 * Passing TD - 45 * Interceptions) / (Passes Attempted) — Note: counts TDs and interceptions, but not sacks
  • Net yards per attempt (pass yards - sack yards)/(passing attempts + sacks) — Note: doesn’t count TDs or interceptions, but does count sacks.
  • Adjusted net yards per attempt (Passing Yards - Sack Yards + (20 * Passing TD) - (45 * Interceptions)) / (Passes Attempted + Times Sacked) — Note: counts everything.

Where did Matthew Stafford rank using these stats?

STAT STAFFORD INDEXED RANK
Completion percentage 61.5 99 19
Yds./att. 7.1 99 17
Interception percentage 2.5 102 13
Passer rating 86.8 100 16
Sack percentage 5.3 107 10
ANY/A 6.1 102 16

This got me thinking. Where did Dak Prescott rank in these stats last year? We haven’t used this data set before. What does it tell us?

If you cut it off at more than 10 games, there are 31 quarterbacks who qualify, only one less than teams in the NFL. That leaves out only the Rams, who used Case Keenum and Jared Goff last year.

With 100 being league average, how many quarterbacks ranked above that number in all nine categories? Only four guys - Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, and Dak Prescott. Matt Ryan, for all his brilliance last year, fell below average in sack percentage. And, of these, Dak came out with the second highest average across the board.

Name Age Tm G Cmp%+ Y/A+ TD%+ Int%+ Rate+ Sack%+ AY/A+ NY/A+ ANY/A+ Avg.
Tom Brady 39 NWE 12 117 124 125 133 133 122 134 132 140 128.8888889
Dak Prescott 23 DAL 16 119 119 107 126 122 106 123 121 125 118.6666667
Drew Brees 37 NOR 16 128 113 113 102 118 118 112 118 116 115.3333333
Aaron Rodgers 33 GNB 16 111 101 126 121 121 104 115 102 115 112.8888889

When you look at all the quarterbacks together, how do they compare? This chart includes the four above, and ranks them all by their average. On that score, Dak slips to third in the NFL, as Matt Ryan more than made up for his one below average ranking.

Name Age Tm G Cmp%+ Y/A+ TD%+ Int%+ Rate+ Sack%+ AY/A+ NY/A+ ANY/A+ Avg.
Matt Ryan 31 ATL 16 127 149 133 118 140 95 145 144 143 132.6666667
Tom Brady 39 NWE 12 117 124 125 133 133 122 134 132 140 128.8888889
Dak Prescott 23 DAL 16 119 119 107 126 122 106 123 121 125 118.6666667
Drew Brees 37 NOR 16 128 113 113 102 118 118 112 118 116 115.3333333
Kirk Cousins 28 WAS 16 116 122 96 106 111 120 115 126 119 114.5555556
Aaron Rodgers 33 GNB 16 111 101 126 121 121 104 115 102 115 112.8888889
Derek Carr 25 OAK 15 103 96 107 122 110 127 107 107 115 110.4444444
Ben Roethlisberger 34 PIT 14 106 107 115 96 108 123 107 114 111 109.6666667
Marcus Mariota 23 TEN 15 93 109 116 106 109 109 112 112 114 108.8888889
Andrew Luck 27 IND 15 102 114 115 99 110 91 112 109 109 106.7777778
Sam Bradford 29 MIN 15 134 96 90 125 114 97 104 93 103 106.2222222
Matthew Stafford 28 DET 16 109 102 95 111 105 101 104 103 105 103.8888889
Russell Wilson 28 SEA 16 106 112 93 106 104 91 108 107 105 103.5555556
Ryan Tannehill 28 MIA 13 116 112 105 86 106 91 104 106 100 102.8888889
Andy Dalton 29 CIN 16 106 106 85 116 103 92 106 103 104 102.3333333
Alex Smith 32 KAN 15 116 99 83 112 102 104 100 103 102 102.3333333
Philip Rivers 35 SDG 16 90 109 116 76 97 101 101 110 102 100.2222222
Eli Manning 35 NYG 16 100 89 99 94 95 122 90 97 96 98
Carson Palmer 37 ARI 15 92 97 99 99 96 97 98 96 97 96.77777778
Jameis Winston 22 TAM 16 91 100 106 85 95 101 96 100 96 96.66666667
Tyrod Taylor 27 BUF 15 95 94 94 117 100 75 101 89 97 95.77777778
Trevor Siemian 25 DEN 14 86 95 91 105 92 99 97 96 97 95.33333333
Colin Kaepernick 29 SFO 12 85 90 105 120 101 66 102 80 95 93.77777778
Joe Flacco 31 BAL 16 107 81 82 102 91 111 85 86 87 92.44444444
Carson Wentz 24 PHI 16 98 77 78 100 85 107 80 81 82 87.55555556
Blake Bortles 24 JAX 16 84 77 91 96 84 107 82 82 84 87.44444444
Cam Newton 27 CAR 15 60 92 91 92 79 94 90 89 88 86.11111111
Ryan Fitzpatrick 34 NYJ 14 74 89 82 66 70 112 76 96 81 82.88888889
Brock Osweiler 26 HOU 15 84 66 82 85 74 108 69 70 71 78.77777778

One thing you notice from these numbers is the ANY/A column is almost an exact mirror of the overall average ranking. There is some variation, but less than any other column, which suggests it’s a good proxy for evaluating a quarterback’s overall value.

Another thing to notice is that only Kirk Cousins, along with Dak, is an above average quarterback in the NFC East. Eli Manning comes in with an overall 98 score, and Carson Wentz brings up the rear with an 87.5.

Is Dak Prescott a top 5 NFL quarterback?

This question was debated extensively this offseason. Whenever it comes up and someone claims he isn’t, I always wonder - on what facts are you basing that conclusion?

The NFL 100 ranked Dak Prescott 14th overall, and 5th among quarterbacks, behind Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan, and Derek Carr. This is a vote among players, who can use whatever method of evaluation they want. (A Field Gulls writer absolutely destroyed the idea that Derek Carr was better than Dak.)

Pro Football Focus ranked him eighth among quarterbacks, just ahead of Matthew Stafford. Not sure what numbers they were looking at to arrive at this, and makes you wonder about PFF’s evaluation skills.

Cris Carter tried to explain why Dak Prescott is not a top-five quarterback. Nick Wright, in the same article, destroys Carter’s reasoning.

If Dak were not a rookie, if he was a four-year vet who had made a couple Pro Bowls, he would have won the damn MVP. And because he’s a rookie and was judged, initially, on a curve that benefited him, and [later] on a curve that hurt him because we’re like ‘a rookie can’t be this good,’ we ignore the fact that he threw 6.5 touchdowns for every interception, and that he had a 105 quarterback rating. If Dak’s the 88th best player in the sport and there’s seven quarterbacks better than him, then I was watching a different league this year.”

Carter’s claim is that a lot of quarterbacks would have done what Prescott did with Dallas’s offense. But is that really true? How many quarterbacks have gone 13-2 (you can’t in the Philly loss on Dak)? How many have gone a season with only four interceptions? Troy Aikman had a great offensive line and a Hall of Fame running back and wide receiver, but he never put up the totals Dak Prescott did as a rookie.

In fact, the numbers undersell Dak’s value, because none of this includes his six touchdowns running the ball, which tied Tyrod Taylor for the lead among quarterbacks, or his 282 yards rushing, which ranked eighth.

The point of this article is not to rank Dak, who was among the most consistent performers last year, but just to look at new numbers that establish beyond question his excellence, and standing among the NFL’s elite quarterbacks. It’s quite a story.