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Dak Prescott just made the top 10 in The Athletic’s quarterback tiers of 2021

Where do you think Prescott should rank?

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NFL: Dallas Cowboys Training Camp Jason Parkhurst-USA TODAY Sports

The days of talking about Dak Prescott and his pending contract with the Dallas Cowboys are long in the rearview mirror, and thank goodness for that. Things feel firm and stable with the face of the franchise which is great to see throughout the early parts of training camp. 2021 is a big season for Prescott as he is entering the first one with the expectations that come from a big-time deal as well as all of the hype surrounding his return from a season-ending injury that he suffered in Week 5 last year.

Debating how good Prescott is or isn’t is an exercise in futility. Opinions vary on all things and most people are pretty dug in on how they feel at this point. What do some of the most-connected minds in the National Football League think, though?

Dak Prescott just made the top 10 in The Athletic’s quarterback tiers of 2021

Every year Mike Sando puts together a quarterback tiers list that is a collection of how people within the league view signal-callers at present time. Sampled in this year’s collection were, according to Sando at The Athletic, a number of individuals: seven general managers, five head coaches, 11 coordinators, 15 executives, seven quarterback coaches, and five others who work in front offices or other coaching capacities.

It should come as no surprise that Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers are near the top of this thing, but what about where Prescott ranks? He tied for ninth with Justin Herbert of the Los Angeles Chargers.

9. Dak Prescott

Tier 1 votes: 1 | Tier 2 votes: 41 | Tier 3 votes: 8 | 2020 Tier: 2

Prescott broke his ankle, missed the final 11 games and actually polled better this year than in the past with a 2.14 average. Through his own rise and the retirements of players such as Brees and Philip Rivers, Prescott has climbed from 17th to 12th to ninth in Quarterback Tiers over the past three years.

“He just quietly does his thing, and I think the biggest proof of who and what he is, is what that team was without him — it was not good,” an evaluator said.

The Cowboys ranked eighth in offensive EPA with Prescott in the lineup last season. They ranked 29th without him.

“He is a 2, a top 2,” a senior defensive coach said. “In that system, he controls everything. He is really good at the line of scrimmage. He puts them into the right plays, he can identify defenses, he has the arm talent to do it. I was impressed when we played them. When they were behind and he had to start operating at the line of scrimmage, you can see, man, that dude has something to him.”

Prescott drew a single Tier 1 vote this year and three last year. Some think he can push for more next year, ankle permitting.

“A virtue of the Tier 1 quarterback is being able to execute in a pure-pass environment,” an exec said. “His 2-minute drill is elite. He is Tier 1 in that part of the game, which for me makes him automatically high Tier 2.”

Prescott is easily the highest-graded quarterback in the NFC East after Carson Wentz’s decline and exit from Philadelphia.

“I think their coordinator (Kellen Moore) is one of the stars in the league that no one talks about,” an evaluator said. “With him putting together that offense and the weapons they have, the toolbox will be full. Dak will not have to do anything outside his body.”

Prescott only played in five games for the Cowboys last season and they actually trailed in all of them so the person speaking to Sando here could have been anybody from the Los Angeles Rams, Atlanta Falcons, Seattle Seahawks, Cleveland Browns, or New York Giants staffs last year. You can also see that one executive referred to Dak’s two-minute drill being elite. Prescott has always been money in those situations which is an ideal trait among a franchise quarterback.

For perspective there were quarterbacks that ranked ahead of Dak Prescott (in order): Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes (tied for first), Tom Brady, Russell Wilson, Deshaun Watson (this is where Tier 1 ended), Josh Allen, Lamar Jackson and Matthew Stafford (tied for seventh).

You can make an argument for a lot of these quarterbacks. The one that is most touchy is Matthew Stafford who has experienced quite the rise in national assessment since being traded to the Los Angeles Rams back in the early days of this year.

Wherever Dak Prescott ranks, the important thing is that he is healthy now

While we can sit and debate whether Dak is the ninth or seventh or fifth or whatever-best quarterback in the NFL, the most important thing is that he is extremely talented and that he is back. He was sorely missed last season.

We have said this a lot over the stretch of time since he went down, but just how missed was Prescott throughout the 2020 season? PFF recently unveiled a metric called WAIL which stands for WAR-Adjusted Injuries Lost. The idea is that they take a player’s WAR value and determine how lost it is by a player’s status on the injury report. Obviously Prescott was out for every game after he was hurt.

For example, quarterback Dak Prescott’s projected WAR for his Week 6 game against the Arizona Cardinals was +0.14, but since he suffered his injury the week before, that 0.14 counted toward the Cowboys’ total WAIL for the season. Since Prescott is a quarterback, he had the most projected WAR and therefore the most WAIL on the team, but the Cowboys experienced injuries at multiple positions in 2020.

Cowboys quarterbacks actually had the highest WAIL of any position group in 2020 given the fact that Andy Dalton also missed time due to injury. It should come as no surprise that Prescott individually had the highest WAIL value with 1.61. Cincinnati Bengals quarter Joe Burrow was second at 0.82.