Despite all the issues with the Dallas Cowboys this season, one bright spot has been the elevated play of Dak Prescott. In fact, there was a time when Prescott was in consideration for the MVP before the recent three-game losing streak. So it was very interesting to see that Pro Football Focus has an article up on their WAR (wins above replacement) metric to look at who it says is really the MVP.
They concluded that Russell Wilson is the real MVP this year based on their attempt at quantifying the contributions of individual players to their team. But they also mention this in describing Wilson’s accomplishments.
In 908 snaps this season, the eighth-year pro has earned 3.1 wins above replacement, almost a full win more than the next-highest player in Dak Prescott (2.2).
Yep. Despite the dismal record of his team, and how it is teetering on the brink of missing the playoffs altogether, Prescott is the second most valuable player in the entire league.
That is, of course, if you give any credence to this entire calculation. PFF certainly has its detractors. Their entire methodology is based on watching video and assigning grades, which means it is only as good as the people doing the grading and the validity of the methodology itself. If you want to get into the way they arrived at the WAR grades, you should go read the article. Here is a brief outline of their methodology.
Broadly, the PFF WAR model does these things, in order:
Determine how good a given player was during a period of time (generally a season) using PFF grades;
Map a player’s production to a “wins” value for his team using the relative importance of each facet of play;
Simulate a team’s expected performance with a player of interest and with an average player participating identically in his place. Take the difference in expected wins (e.g., Wins Above Average);
Determine the average player with a given participation profile’s wins above replacement player, assuming a team of replacement-level players is a 3-13 team;
Add the terms in the last two calculations to get that player’s WAR.
One thing in their favor is that one conclusion it arrives at matches well with something rather basic. WAR shows that quarterbacks are by far the most important position on any team. That fits the eye test and just about any other way of looking at the game. Football is driven by quarterback play at all levels. It is why they are the highest paid players in the league. Finding a true franchise QB is the most important task for any front office that doesn’t have one, and keeping one is just as crucial once he is acquired.
So with the putative runner-up MVP, just how have the Cowboys sunk so low? The same two usual suspects come to mind.
First, the rest of the roster is just not giving Prescott the help he needs. He is apparently doing just about all he can, despite some recent regression in his play. The defense, which has of late been extremely porous, is particularly guilty here, and the special teams have simply been atrocious all year. Even on offense, there are problems. Dallas leads the league in dropped passes according to more than one site that tries to measure those.
This is also just more fuel to the fire for the argument that coaching is the real problem. Failed first down runs are again a major issue. The defense seems to get caught in the wrong scheme and alignment far too often. Special teams just don’t seem to know what they are doing.
While Prescott has not been as effective in those recent losses, this PFF analysis strongly suggests that he is not much to blame for the slide to 6-7. As a matter of fact, it is evidence that the team might be in even worse straits if he was not so good.
The Cowboys need schemes that support his performance. It needs a philosophy that maximizes what he brings to the table, instead of establishing the run, trying to use a bend-don’t-break approach on defense, and whatever STs are doing.
The one bright spot in all this is that Prescott is still very early in his career, and there is just about zero chance the Jones family will not cough up a contract to keep him in Dallas. At worst they’ll use a tag to buy time, but ponying up the huge amount he has earned is the best option, by far. A new coach with the right approach and staff will hopefully find a proper way to utilize what they have in him.