We’re almost halfway through the 2019 regular season and Dak Prescott is firmly in the MVP race. Very few passers have played as well as Prescott this year, and since the odds are incredibly likely that the MVP award will go to a quarterback, that makes Dak’s chances even better.
After the Cowboys got off to a hot 3-0 start, the chatter began to pick up a bit, but a three-game losing streak derailed it all despite Prescott putting up numbers and leading a top five offense in nearly every category. With seven weeks in the books and the Cowboys entering the bye after a season-saving victory over the rival Eagles, it’s time for this train to pick back up again.
First, let’s look at the raw numbers. Prescott is completing 70.6% of his passes for 2,123 yards with 12 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He’s also run for 163 yards on 24 attempts, giving him a career high of 6.8 yards/carry and has scored with his legs three times. This means that Prescott is on pace for 4,852 passing yards, 27 touchdowns, and 16 interceptions, along with 372 rushing yards and seven touchdowns. Those would all be career best marks for him.
Comparing to the rest of the league, Prescott stacks up pretty well. He’s third in the league in completion percentage despite leading the league in dropped passes; for what it’s worth, Prescott’s completion rate would balloon to 77% if all the dropped passes were caught, which would easily lead the league. He’s also third in passing yards, and should rise up the leaderboard now that the two passers ahead of him, Matt Ryan and Patrick Mahomes, both left their games with injuries this week. Prescott is also tied for fourth in passing touchdowns.
But where Prescott’s impressive performance is really reflected is through advanced metrics. Prescott is second in the league in total air yards, second in air yards/completed pass, and first in air yards/attempt. This means that Prescott is throwing the ball far and connecting on those deep passes at a very high rate; he’s also fifth among full-time starting quarterbacks in average depth of target with 9.5 yards. Additionally, Prescott ranks 27th in poor throw percentage, with only four qualifying passers having thrown a lower rate of poor throws than Dak; of those four passers, none even come close to Dak in regards to depth of targets or air yards. Not surprisingly, Prescott is third in the NFL in yards/attempt with 8.9 and second in net yards gained/attempt with 8.24.
In looking at the NFL’s Next Gen Stats, another advanced form of measuring performances, Prescott earns high marks again. So far, Prescott leads the entire NFL in completion percentage above expectation with a +8.1 differential. Based on things like distance, separation, and location on the field, Prescott’s expected completion rate is 62.5%, which would rank 20th in the league. His actual completion rate is significantly higher at 70.6%, meaning he’s way overperforming. Furthermore, Dak has been doing this in every single game, putting him in rare territory:
Dak Prescott is the only quarterback to outperform expectations in every game this season based on our Completion Probability model. His performance tonight against the Eagles:— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) October 21, 2019
Comp Pct: 77.8%
Exp Comp Pct: 65.0%
Comp Above Exp: +12.8%#PHIvsDAL | #DallasCowboys pic.twitter.com/1Ts14AqCvc
Finally, there are three metrics that serve as a way to measure overall performance and value, adjusting for other variables like pass protection, receiver drops, quality of opponent, and other things. The most popular one is QBR, and Prescott has led the NFL in that for quite a while now. His 81.1 QBR is just ahead of the now-injured Mahomes, who sits at 80.7.
Two other metrics are DVOA and DYAR. In short, DVOA for an individual player means they have more value per play, while DYAR means more value overall. To that end, Dak moved up to second in the league in both of those figures, with a 688 DYAR and a +31.4% DVOA. Only Mahomes is ahead in both categories, but with him set to miss at least a few weeks, Prescott is likely to move ahead of him.
Not only has Dak provided great value, both on an overall basis and on a play-by-play basis, but he’s been incredibly efficient as well. Looking at the chart compiled by Ben Baldwin of ESPN, Prescott ranks incredibly high in two main categories of efficiency, completion rate above expectation and expected points added per play:
QB update and Dak still very high up after last night pic.twitter.com/TzlAb0avaq— new-age analytical (@benbbaldwin) October 22, 2019
So not only does Prescott stack up really well against the rest of the league in volume stats, but he’s one of the very best passers according to various advanced metrics. Beyond that, he’s leading an offense that’s ranked first in the league in total yards (437.9/game), seventh in scoring (27.1 points/game), and first in DVOA (+27.1%). Sure, the Cowboys will need to string together some more wins to get Prescott’s MVP campaign going again, but there’s no denying that Dak has been utterly impressive this season.