Two years, 32 regular season games, 32 starts, 22-10 record. There’s a lot we can say about third-year quarterback Dak Prescott. What we can’t say is that he hasn’t been successful. Through two years in the NFL, the former fourth-round pick has shown us mostly good things, but also some things that were not so good.
In 2016, Dak could do no wrong. Once he was given the starting job, there was no losing it. In 15 games in 2016 (excluding week 17 against Philadelphia), Prescott had just three games in which he threw for under a 65% completion percentage, one game where he didn’t account for at least one touchdown, and just four games in which he posted a quarterback rating under 100. This is all coming from a 23-year old quarterback playing in his first NFL season who would eventually be selected to his first Pro Bowl.
In 2017, Prescott started off just as hot, but cooled down quite a bit by the end of the season. While still pulling off a 9-7 record, it was tough sledding for the second-year quarterback. After losing his All-Pro running back and All-Pro left tackle, both in the same week, Prescott’s first game without his two best players was an absolute disaster, and the rest of the season wasn’t much better.
In the final eight games of the 2017 season, the Cowboys quarterback was sacked 22 times, had just two games with at least 200 yards passing, and threw nine interceptions. Prescott desperately missed Elliott and Smith, and it showed week after week.
So why would Prescott play any better in 2018 than he did in 2017? Here are four reasons why:
Learning from 2017
Those last two months of the season prepared Dak Prescott for what the NFL is like when things aren’t set up the way you expected. He learned how to handle adversity. He learned how even after having a three-interception game against division rival Philadelphia he has to look his team in the eyes, be accountable, and continue to lead his team into battle. All of those things are going to make him a better quarterback this year and in years to come.
Dak Prescott spent most of his offseason working on his footwork, throwing motion, and pocket presence in California with quarterback coach John Beck. Prescott worked with Beck on his footwork and subtle movements inside the pocket to buy more time, to be more accurate, and to be on time with his throws. Prescott also lost notable weight, and looks to be much slimmer and smoother when inside and outside of the pocket.
A revamped receiving corps
He will need all of those things to improve, since he is working with a revamped receiving corps with veterans Dez Bryant and Jason Witten no longer with the team. While Dak Prescott will likely miss both Bryant and Witten, it’s questionable whether their departure makes things harder on the third-year quarterback.
This offseason the Cowboys added Allen Hurns, Michael Gallup, Deonte Thompson, and Tavon Austin to their receiving corps to help take the weight off of both Dak Prescott’s and Ezekiel Elliott’s shoulders. The interesting thing about this receiving corps is that each player brings something different to the table that will help Dak. Michael Gallup, Cole Beasley, and Allen Hurns will likely be the guys Prescott turns to when he needs a big play on third down, or to move the team closer to the chains. Deonte Thompson and Tavon Austin are likely going to be used as vertical threats or as gadget players, although they will also be given opportunities underneath. But they won’t be locked into one thing, or line up in just one spot in the offense, and that uncertainty will likely make it tougher for defenses to defend them. It’s also going to help that even though it may not seem like it, the weapons around Prescott suit him better than they did in previous years.
Better left guard play
Connor Williams had has his moments this preseason where he’s looked like he wasn’t ready to contribute at the NFL level, but while Geno Atkins did beat him a time or two in a preseason game, Williams had his fair share of wins as well. Williams is going to be just fine as the Cowboys starting left guard, and while there may be a few moments early in the season where he goes through a learning curve, don’t be so quick to judge him. Williams is going to allow Prescott time in the pocket, and open up running lanes for Ezekiel Elliott. Coming out of Texas as a junior, Williams played left tackle for the Longhorns, and was known for his athletic ability and nastiness as a blocker. Williams fits right in with this offensive line’s attitude and demeanor, and he will be a cornerstone piece for this offensive line for years to come. With better left guard play comes better quarterback play.
Tyron Smith and Ezekiel Elliott are back
Last but not least, his boys are back. Tyron Smith and Ezekiel Elliott are back, and have no plans of going anywhere. Smith has spoken multiple times this offseason about how this is the best he’s felt health-wise in the last four to five years. With Tyron in the lineup at left tackle, Dak Prescott was at his best. When Tyron was not in the lineup due to injury, Dak Prescott struggled, like any other quarterback would without their All-Pro left tackle. The same can be said for third-year running back Ezekiel Elliott. When in the lineup, this offense is one of the best in the league due to their ability to run the football, set up play-action, and take shots down the field due to the defense accounting for the run. When Elliott isn’t in the lineup, things start to fall apart. Defenses can play man-to-man underneath, with two-deep safeties to take the pass away, instead of putting a safety down in the box. Zeke makes defenses respect the run more than any other running back in the league, which makes Prescott’s life much more easier as a quarterback.
While all the new weapons are nice, and while having both Zeke and Tyron back is going to make a world of difference, it’s Dak’s leadership, attitude, and the way he handles himself that are the reasons the Cowboys and everyone else in the NFL will see the best version of Dak Prescott in 2018, and it all starts today in Charlotte as the Dallas Cowboys take on the Carolina Panthers.