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What PFF examined and learned from Dak Prescott’s success as a late-round NFL Draft steal

PFF looked back at the thoughts surrounding Dak prior to the 2016 draft and what can be learned from his success.

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NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Dallas Cowboys Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL Draft is always hard to project. Sure-fire prospects turn into busts, while overlooked prospects blossom and find stardom. For the most part, the Dallas Cowboys have hit in the draft — especially in round one.

However, the biggest value on the entire roster is none other than quarterback Dak Prescott. The former two-time first-team All-SEC quarterback and All-American selection fell all the way to day three of the 2016 draft. Quarterbacks such as Christian Hackenberg, Cody Kessler, and Connor Cook are just three names that heard their name called before Prescott finally did late in the fourth round.

Since stepping on to the field for his first preseason game back in August 2016 against the Los Angeles Rams, Prescott has proven time and time again that not only does he belong in the league, he belongs as one of the top franchise quarterbacks across the entire league. Prescott took over for an injured Tony Romo and never looked back. Now, he awaits a big-money contract from the Jones family.

Prescott is not the only quarterback to fall on draft day and provide his team with incredible value. Russell Wilson, Kirk Cousins, and, of course, Tom Brady are other examples.

Mike Renner of Pro Football Focus dove into late-round NFL Draft steals of the PFF era, dating back to when PFF was established in 2015. Prescott, of course, was included in the article.

Renner wrote on why each player included fell in the draft, PFF’s take at the time of the draft, and what we have learned since the player was drafted in the NFL. Renner cites Prescott's mechanics as to why the former Mississippi State star fell in the draft.

A former three-star recruit that was recruited by the home-state LSU Tigers to play a position other than quarterback, Prescott arrived to the college scene as a raw prospect. Then-Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen, now at Florida, did a wonderful job in molding Prescott, but there were still some concerns if the Haughton, Louisiana, native would continue to clean up his footwork and mechanics.

Reason He Fell: While a pre-draft arrest for a DUI didn’t help his draft stock, that’s not why Prescott wasn’t considered a top prospect back in 2016. As Dane Brugler noted at the time: “His footwork is inconsistent and he loses accuracy when his feet are not set.” Lance Zierlein had a similar take: “The tape shows a player who must improve his mechanics, poise and quickness through his progressions.” He also had an ugly outing on the big stage against Alabama in 2015 that saw him go 22-of-43 for 299 yards with no touchdowns, a pick and nine sacks.

We have seen Prescott’s mechanics and footwork continue to improve during his career with the Cowboys. Prescott exploded on to the national scene when he led the Bulldogs to a number one ranking for five weeks during the 2014 college football season. As a first-year starter in 2014, Prescott still had things to clean up during the magical season.

The Mississippi State program then saw talent on both sides of the ball exit the program to the NFL and graduation, leaving more of a load for Prescott to carry in 2015. As a result, Prescott did have some struggles.

PFF’s Take at the Time: Prescott’s grades at Mississippi State were very unspectacular. He earned a 72.1 overall grade in 2014 and 76.4 in 2015 (mostly due to the disastrous 34.6 overall grade against Alabama). He checked in at 221st on the PFF draft board, where we noted the following: “Prescott has almost everything you’d want from a quarterback, except accuracy. He has some awful misses at times.” His 75.3 adjusted completion percentage ranked 18th among FBS starters his final season.

Despite being known as one of the better offensive coaches in college football, Dan Mullen failed to put many skill positions into the league at Mississippi State. Just one skill player from the 2014 squad was drafted (running back Josh Robinson, fifth-round) and none were selected from Prescott’s 2015 Mississippi State team.

When playing against the likes of Alabama, Auburn, and LSU in the SEC West, that can be tough to overcome. The thought was that Prescott was surrounded by professional talent when Mississippi State finished 19-7 during his two seasons as the full-time starter. However, upon further review, it makes Prescott’s success that much more impressive as he elevated everybody around him. Renner notes that taking supporting cast into consideration is important, as well as intangible traits.

What We Learned: Supporting casts matter. There wasn’t another single skill-position player on that 2015 team to be selected in the NFL Draft. Mississippi State’s success during Prescott’s tenure — the Bulldogs went 10-3 in 2014 and 9-4 in 2015 — was mainly on his shoulders. At a position like quarterback, the talent around him has to be taken into consideration.

Prescott’s success also speaks to the intangibles inherent to the position. His leadership and white board reviews pre-draft were about as glowing as one can get. At a position that has as many variables to juggle, those are necessary aspects.

It is so hard to predict how successful a draft pick or draft class will turn out to be immediately following the draft. The position a player plays, the situation in which they are drafted into, the head coach and position coach, and injuries are some factors that can determine how successful a prospect will ultimately become.

We are still relatively early into Dak Prescott’s NFL career, but it is clear that the Cowboys found tremendous value in the former Mississippi State signal caller in the 2016 draft.

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