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Pro Football Focus has Dak Prescott 11th in latest ranking - which may be better than you realize

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Context is everything when speaking of Dak Prescott.

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Green Bay Packers v Dallas Cowboys
New wave and old guard share a moment.
Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images

With the Dallas Cowboys and Dak Prescott still at an apparent standstill in the negotiations for a new contract, fans and media alike have a fascination with trying to gauge just what the quarterback is worth. Statistics and rankings are parsed and contrasted. That alone can lead to some widely different conclusions. Add in trying to project those to figure out to how he might perform next season, especially compared to other starting quarterbacks, just adds a new layer of complexity and confusion. Is Prescott a top 5 QB? Top 10? Top half of the league?

Another attempt to do just that is out, from Pro Football Focus. They try to figure out the likelihood of where all the projected starting quarterbacks will stack up this season, with a couple of possible challengers for starting jobs thrown in to be complete. While there are some possible flaws, such as leaving out the Philadelphia Eagles’ new starter Jalen Hurts, it is overall an impressive effort. It also uses a lot of stuff that may be a bit mystifying to all but hardcore statisticians and math experts, such as Bayesian Updating (which as it turns out has nothing to do with aspirin) and standard deviations. The jargon takes some sorting out as well, such as the reference to “career posterior.” It’s a nice way of saying “back side of a career.”

But for now, let’s just assume they are on to something. The list is based on probabilities and not meant to be a hard and fast ranking, but it worth considering. For Cowboys fans, it may be disappointing, although it probably will reinforce the feelings of those who are not as high on Prescott as others. It has him 11th on the list.

That would seem to not be so bad, with him just outside the top 10, and in a near tie with the player ahead of him, Philip Rivers. But adding in another pertinent bit of data provides something else that shows how, if Dallas is looking to the future of the position for the Cowboys, they probably need to bite the bullet and pay the man.

Here are the first 15 quarterbacks on the list with that one extra element, their age, added. The top 15 were chosen because that includes the two quarterbacks forever linked to Prescott in the 2016 draft class.

PFF 2020 QB ranking

Rank Player Age
Rank Player Age
1 Patrick Mahomes 24
2 Russell Wilson 31
3 Drew Brees 41
4 Aaron Rodgers 36
5 Matt Ryan 35
6 Lamar Jackson 23
7 Tom Brady 42
8 Deshaun Watson 24
9 Ben Roethlisberger 38
10 Philip Rivers 38
11 Dak Prescott 26
12 Jimmy Garoppolo 28
13 Carson Wentz 27
14 Matthew Stafford 32
15 Jared Goff 25

Why is the age relevant here? PFF explains.

We find that quarterbacks tend to underperform their career performance in the next season once they’ve been in the league for roughly 10 years, and the effect grows stronger the older the quarterback becomes.

This doesn’t necessarily stem from a smooth decay of a quarterback’s skill, but more from the increasing probability that an older quarterback “falls off a cliff.” Nevertheless, it’s an effect we have to acknowledge in our projections.

That means that older quarterbacks tend to be on their way down in this ranking, while younger ones are likely to move up. When you add that in, you see that six of the quarterbacks ahead of Prescott are in that aging category, and Russell Wilson is nearing it.

That puts Prescott in the top five “young guns,” the quarterbacks you expect to see ascending to the cream of the crop in the next few seasons. And as PFF also notes, younger quarterbacks tend to have even greater variance from season to season than more established ones, so he has a real shot at passing some of those.

When so many of the top rated quarterbacks in the league are in their late 30s and early 40s, changes in these ratings are inevitable. Some of them will doubtless retire over the next four years or so.

In essence, the Cowboys can lock up a very likely top 5 quarterback by the end of his next deal by signing Prescott.

Another argument for the validity of this ranking is how close Prescott and Carson Wentz are. Who will wind up with the best career is a toss-up, which matches nicely with the sometimes heated arguments over which is better already.

Another point PFF makes is year-to-year variance.

To understand that, note that Tom Brady is the highest-graded quarterback in the PFF era, but even he has ranked outside the top 10 three times in his career since 2006. Over the last four years, Derek Carr ranked sixth, 27th, 25th and 11th in passing grade, further illustrating that quarterbacks tend to fluctuate from season to season.

A four- or five-year contract, which is reported to be the main sticking point in the Prescott negotiations, is more about overall performance than next year’s. So it is just one more reason to justify getting a deal completed.

Prescott has already provided a body of work that puts him clearly in the upper half of all quarterbacks, and should only move closer to the top relative to other starters. This PFF analysis is more good news than bad for the future of the Cowboys.