Through three years, it’s hard to argue that Dak Prescott hasn’t put up some good statistics. A 66% career completion percentage, between 3,300 and 3,900 passing yards each year, and never less than 22 passing touchdowns with minimal interceptions are all pretty good marks. But the perception seems to be that Prescott, a former Heisman semi-finalist, is capable of more.
That’s why Kellen Moore was promoted to be the new offensive coordinator and Jon Kitna was hired as the quarterbacks coach. Moore is supposed to rejuvenate the offense with diverse pre-snap looks while Kitna is supposed to refine Prescott’s mechanics so that he can take the next step in his career.
If everything goes according to plan, Prescott should be ready to put up some vastly improved numbers in 2019. But what could his actual stat line look like? Bobby Belt has an idea, and it includes Prescott getting into the MVP conversation:
I mentioned to @RJOchoa yesterday that I think Dak will be in the MVP conversation by season's end.— Bobby Belt (@BobbyBeltTX) June 24, 2019
Made me start thinking about stat projections for 2019. This is about what I think Dak will do in 2019:
ATT: 542 (66.8%)
Belt also explains that he didn’t project rushing statistics because he isn’t sure how Moore might use Prescott in the running game just yet. Still, these numbers would be a huge improvement for the fourth-year signal caller. It got me thinking about potential comparisons for a projection given what little we know about Moore’s offense so far.
It seems more or less apparent by now that Moore is relying on the offensive style of his alma mater, Boise State, to breathe new life into an offense that has been derided as stale the last two years. So I looked back at Moore’s stats when he was a record-setting quarterback on the blue turf. Oddly enough, his completion rates and passing yards were fairly similar to Prescott’s thus far, although it’s hard to directly compare stats from a 13 game season to a 16 game season with vastly different competition levels.
What I was looking for the most here, though, is Moore’s yards per attempt. One of the bigger criticisms of the previous offensive coordinator in Dallas was how rarely the deep shot was taken. The early word from OTA’s and minicamp practices are that Moore is dialing up more deep throws, and that Prescott is hitting them often with his newly refined mechanics. The continued development of Michael Gallup should particularly increase the number of passes thrown farther down field.
Of course, more deep shots means a higher amount of yards per attempt. Prescott posted an even eight yards per attempt in his rookie year, but that figure decreased steadily in 2017, dropping to 6.8. It increased to 7.4 last year, with a lot likely due to the Gallup connection seen above.
In four years as a starter in college, Moore had a career 8.8 yards per attempt. For good measure, Boise State’s most recent quarterback, Brett Rypien (now a Denver Bronco), logged a career 8.7 yards per attempt over his four years as a starter. That seems like a fairly good sample size to work with in understanding how quarterbacks perform in this offense. Of course, it’s harder at the NFL level. In order to account for that, I’ll project Prescott to have 8.2 yards per attempt, which would still be a career high for him.
The next big thing to identify is how many attempts Prescott will have. This is where Moore’s college stats stop helping, as both the game and season are shorter, among other factors. Prescott threw 500+ passes for the first time in 2018 with 526. By contrast, both Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes had over 580 attempts last year.
Like Bobby Belt, I expect Prescott’s attempts to increase, but not in a huge way. For example, Prescott saw a 6.75% increase from 2016 to 2017 and then a 7.35% increase from 2017 to 2018. I don’t expect Prescott to see a big increase in that percentage this year, given all the changes on offense, so let’s just assume a modest 7.4% increase from 526 attempts in 2018, which gives him 564 attempts.
From here, we can use the attempts and yards per attempt to get a rough approximation of Prescott’s total passing yards within this current model. After adjusting for a small overestimation in this calculation, that brings Prescott’s projected passing yards to 4,572 yards. Not only is this a massive increase for Prescott - it would be the first time in his career with over 4,000 yards - but it would have placed him sixth in the NFL this past year.
Now comes the numbers that are a bit harder to project, like completions, touchdowns, and interceptions. There’s more general guess work here. Since Prescott has a career completion rate of 66.1%, and the numbers tell us that an increase in attempts usually correlates to a decrease in completion percentage, I’m randomly picking Prescott to complete 65.3% of his passes in 2019, which means he’ll complete 368 passes.
Touchdowns are even harder to guess at. He has 67 career touchdown passes, but nearly 60% of those have been inside the red zone. That should even out a bit with Moore’s new emphasis on the deep game, and could even see Prescott’s TD% return to the 5% of his rookie year. If that happens, Prescott gets 28 touchdown passes. Similarly, he should see an uptick in interceptions because of the increase in passing attempts. I’ll put the projection at 10 interceptions, which would just about match his career INT%.
Finally, for the sake of giving rushing projections, I’m just assuming that Moore implements more option-oriented stuff into the gameplan, as well as a general focus on using Prescott’s legs more. As such, he should be able to break triple-digit rushing attempts for the first time in his career with 112 carries. Considering that Prescott averages five yards per carry, let’s say he gains just under that with 552 rushing yards. Having scored six rushing touchdowns in each season thus far, the increase in carries can lead to a small increase in scores as well, with eight rushing touchdowns.
This means that Dak would have a final stat line of:
4.572 passing yards
99.4 passer rating
552 rushing yards
Those are numbers that probably any Cowboys fan would gladly take, and if Prescott has already signed a new contract extension by then, it’ll likely make fans feel better about whatever deal it ends up being.
Of course, this all rides on the idea that Moore and Kitna are going to work out like the Cowboys brass hopes they do. If not, then Dallas could have bigger problems that Dak not putting up a career year. If it does happen, though, Prescott could put himself firmly in the conversation for the MVP award.