Dak Prescott is an MVP contender in 2019.
That might be a somewhat controversial thing to say after a week in which he threw three interceptions and lost his second game in a row, but it’s true. In fact, much in the same way that Amari Cooper’s career day was overlooked due to his drop that led to one of those interceptions, Prescott had a fantastic day against the Packers as well, at least in the box score.
Dak completed 61.36% of his passes for a career-high 463 yards and two touchdowns on Sunday, and he finished the game with 10.52 yards per attempt. That line would normally be enough to win the game and earn Offensive Player of the Week honors in the process, but the three interceptions drag it all down. Of course, one of those was courtesy of Cooper’s drop and another came on a play where pass interference definitely should have been called but wasn’t. Nevertheless, it goes on Dak’s record.
But this has been the continuation of a trend this year with Prescott playing really, really good football. Through five games, he’s posting a career high 69.6% completion rate despite having more pass attempts than he ever has to start the first five weeks of a season. Dak has thrown for 1,606 yards and 11 touchdowns already. His career highs are 3,885 yards and 23 touchdowns; Dak is on pace to shatter both of those with 5,139 yards and 35 touchdowns.
There’s still an untapped element to Dak’s game
Additionally, Dak hasn’t been used as a runner very much - one of the few common complaints about Kellen Moore’s offense thus far - but he has been very effective when he does run the ball. Currently, Dak has 16 carries for 122 yards and a touchdown. The amount of carries is about on pace with how many he had in his first two seasons, but the yardage totals have him on pace to set a career high with 390 rushing yards, blowing past his previous high of 357 yards.
The biggest change for Prescott this year has been the significant increase in downfield shots, as the quarterback has stretched the field in a way he never has before. He currently has 9.4 yards per attempt, far and away the best mark in his career. Prescott also has 8.5 air yards per completion and 9.9 yards of average depth per target, which includes both completed and incompleted pass attempts. In short, Prescott is having a career year by nearly every metric.
Stacking Dak up against the field
How does he rank against the rest of the league though? The answer might surprise you. Despite being tenth in total pass attempts, Dak is fifth in the league in completion rate, ahead of Patrick Mahomes, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, and of course Carson Wentz. Prescott’s 1,606 yards also ranks fourth in the NFL and he’s tied for second-most touchdown passes. Prescott’s yards per attempt is tied with Mahomes for best in the league as well.
Dak ranks fifth in the NFL in passer rating, third in adjusted net yards per attempt, and leads the league in total QBR, ahead of Mahomes. Prescott also leads the NFL in average completed air yards, signaling that he’s completing a lot of his deep passes. Additionally, Dak is third in the league in completion percentage above expectation, generally an indicator that he’s outperforming his scheme, which would seem to challenge any notions that Moore’s scheme is more responsible for Dak’s numbers than Dak is.
Finally, here’s a look at the correlation between completion percentage above expectation adjusted for target depth and the expected points added (EPA) per play, giving us a finely tuned idea at quarterback efficiency, courtesy of Ben Baldwin.
Quarterback Completion Percentage Above Expected vs EPA/play through week 5 (pending SNF/MNF)— new-age analytical (@benbbaldwin) October 7, 2019
-->Can see why Mahomes-Prescott-Wilson-Watson are the top 4 in ESPN's QBR.
-->Not sure why QBR isn't impressed by Jimmy G (he's No. 16 there)
-->Jackson really falling back to earth pic.twitter.com/mY7Mgn12XY
As you can see, Prescott is very much at the top of the league’s passers, in a class with Mahomes and Russell Wilson and maybe Jimmy Garoppolo. In addition to all the other ways in which Dak is ranked at or near the top of the league, in both volume stats and advanced metrics, it’s clear that he’s not only putting up the best numbers of his career, but putting up some of the best numbers of any quarterback this season.
In a league that is driven by quarterback play, and now that the Cowboys have an offensive coordinator who accepts that principle, this should provide at least some positivity and encouragement to the fans in the midst of a two-game losing streak.