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Busting some myths and memes about Dak Prescott with Next Gen Stats

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The NFL’s stats page is worth diving into as we wait for the Cowboys to come to terms with their starting QB.

Green Bay Packers v Dallas Cowboys
It makes him look pretty good.
Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

It looks like we have a bit of a wait for the contract situation between the Dallas Cowboys and starting QB Dak Prescott to resolve itself. While the only logical expectation is that he will be under contract for training camp, we don’t know if that will be under the franchise tag or with a shiny new and very expensive deal. The length involved seems to be the real sticking point, with the team wanting to lock him up for five years while he and his agent are trying to get a four-year contract that lets him get to another likely huge payday a year earlier. All noise about the Andy Dalton signing is just that. Prescott is the real deal and will get paid, one way or another.

That is not just drinking the blue Kool Aid, there are all kinds of statistics and analyses that support the contention. As often happens, a closer look at one particular stats site, the NFL’s Next Gen Stats, was in order when I saw the following on Twitter.

That chart for Prescott was interesting, and not just because he put his number out there with the green sectors. First off, notice just how right-handed a passer he was during 2019. When throwing that direction, he was absolutely money. It also absolutely shatters the meme that he is not good throwing deep. He was one of the best outside the numbers, and certainly adequate going up the middle. The drop off there was perhaps a function of the play-calling, and that will be something Kellen Moore and Mike McCarthy should see as an opportunity to improve.

What is really exciting is that solid green band between 10 and 20 yards downfield. That is where a passing game can prosper, because the majority of completions in that range are going to net a first down, if not a score when you are in the red zone. If you had to pick just one range of depth for your quarterback to excel, that is it.

The tweet above is comparing Prescott with Deshaun Watson because many point to Watson as someone who has a better future than Prescott. This shoots some holes in that argument, but it also brought to mind the two other quarterbacks Prescott is linked to because they were all taken in the 2016 draft. Here are the charts for Jared Goff and Carson Wentz.

Win for Dak.

The pretty pictures aren’t the only thing that reflect favorably on Prescott at Next Gen. They have some rather unique stats on their passing leader page, and most just fortify the contention that Prescott is a top ten quarterback, and deserves to be paid.

One is Completed Air Yards (CAY), which measures how far down the field the passer completes his throws. For some reason, that dink and dunk Dak meme continues its Walking Dead existence. Yet Next Gen has him as the third deepest of all NFL quarterbacks. It is certainly not an indicator of this being a great contributor to overall team success, since Matthew Stafford and Jameis Winston are the two names ahead of him. Still, it does prove that he is one of the best at pushing the ball downfield - and he is far better at Winston at protecting the ball.

There is another column in this chart that also paints a really interesting picture about depth of passing. It is Intended Air Yards (IAY). IAY includes both completions and incompletions, and just like CAY, it bears out that Prescott is one of the deeper throwers in the league across all his attempts, ranking sixth.

But one that really brings a smile is Air Yards to the Sticks (AYTS). Let me quote their full definition.

Air Yards to the Sticks shows the amount of Air Yards ahead or behind the first down marker on all attempts for a passer. The metric indicates if the passer is attempting his passes past the 1st down marker, or if he is relying on his skill position players to make yards after catch.

Positive is good here, and although Prescott only averages 0.4 yards past the sticks on his throws, that is the fourth best in the league. More significantly, only eleven NFL quarterbacks averaged throws that got to or beyond the point needed for a first down. All the others averaged throwing behind the sticks.

Passes short of the yards needed to get a new set of downs are a formula for failure, unless you have a bunch of outstanding receivers who can get those extra yards on their own. Wentz, who of course is well known for his ability to take games over, and Goff both are in negative territory. Surprisingly, so are dominant quarterbacks like Patrick Mahomes and Drew Brees. Gee, maybe this really is a team sport.

The point of this exercise is to show how Prescott is indeed one of the better all-around quarterbacks in the league, using an objective source. Numbers don’t lie. Prescott has the tools and abilities to lead this team to success, and with the addition of a powerful new offensive weapon in CeeDee Lamb who brings tremendous potential to up those yards after the catch, he should just be better. (If you want something else fun to read, you might want to check out what Next Gen had to say about Lamb long before the draft. Just skip over what they say about Washington’s new guy, Chase Young.)

This probably was preaching to the choir for many of you. But next time you have to contend with someone spouting myths and memes about Dak, you now have some cold, hard numbers for a rebuttal.