It is a passing league. We all know this to be the case about today’s National Football League. The quickest path to the endzone is through the air and the game’s rules in the current day and age benefit that aspect of the offense.
This has been the case for the past few seasons now, and we have seen more and more quarterbacks challenge passing records of old. What used to be impressive in 4,000 passing yards is now boring and standard, even eclipsing 5,000 yards in a single season doesn’t raise many eyebrows from the game’s followers.
With the league expanding the regular season from 16 to 17 games this offseason, the standing of many records throughout the sport appear to be in jeopardy. There will be one more opportunity for players to pile up more yards, touchdowns, receptions, tackles, sacks, and everything else, but going back to passing, does that mean that someone could soon eclipse even 6,000 yards?
ESPN named Dak Prescott as the top candidate to throw for over 6,000 yards in 2021
We have had this discussion when the subject of Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, and CeeDee Lamb each having 1,000 yards receiving has been discussed, those types of records are only possible if the season plays out a certain way.
Obviously passing is more necessary at the beginning parts of games, but if teams pile up big leads they are less inclined to keep pouring it on and elect to run the ball to control the game and keep the clock moving. But, if you are losing then passing at the end can be crucial.
ESPN recently laid out the groundwork for how they believe a 6,000-yard passer can be born. It is a six-step sequence:
- A fast-paced offense
- An offense that is pass-heavy
- A team that also has a shaky defense
- High-end quarterback efficiency from your signal-caller
- Minimal to moderate scrambling from the quarterback
- Elite health from the QB and lots of playing time
All of these things make sense, particularly the bad defense. If you are constantly allowing the other team to score then you are going to need to continually score which is going to continually allow passing to be an option. It is the circle of life.
As the worldwide leader outlined this recipe they also named quarterbacks who they think are capable of hitting of 6K in 2021. Their top candidate was Dak Prescott.
1. Dak Prescott, Cowboys
You were expecting to see Mahomes here, weren’t you? Let me explain. Prescott finished second in passing yards in 2019 (4,902) and was on a 17-game pace of 7,183 yards in four full games last season prior to suffering a season-ending ankle injury. Prescott has completed 66% of his career pass attempts (peaking at 68% in 2018 and 2020) and he has finished top-five in YPA in three of his five seasons (including 2019 and 2020). His 9.4-yard average depth of target (aDOT) in 2019 ranked fourth in the NFL. Prescott will benefit greatly from Mike McCarthy’s offense. Dallas averaged 35.5 seconds between snaps (second fastest in 2020 and 12th over the past decade) and 1,109 offensive snaps (second, 11th) last season.
McCarthy has generally called a pass-heavy offense and was a bit above average in that department while Prescott was healthy last season. Prescott’s ankle injury could be considered a red flag, but note he appeared in all 64 of Dallas’ regular-season games during his first four NFL seasons, playing at least 98% of the snaps each season from 2017 to 2019. Prescott does pull the ball down and run at times, though he scrambled 20 times during his past full season in 2019, so this isn’t a concern area. Dallas’ offense — led by Prescott, Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, Michael Gallup, Ezekiel Elliott and a good (and now healthy) offensive line — is loaded, but its defense is arguably among the bottom five in the NFL, which is good news in this scenario. Prescott is in his prime at age 28 and in a near-perfect situation to push for 6,000 yards.
It’s been noted many times that Prescott was on pace to shatter passing records in 2020. Mike Clay, the author of the ESPN article, even notes that Dak was on pace for 7,183 yards had last season been 17 games in the regular season.
Even with all that, there are probably things that would have leveled off with Prescott last year. Yes, the defense was bad, but the style of play was unsustainable long-term. And the defense did improve later in the year, while other injuries piled up on offense. Prescott would have likely put up career highs, but he probably would not have eclipsed 6,000 yards when it was all said and done.
Similarly, it seems difficult to believe that Dak could throw for 6K here in 2021. He is certainly capable, and the Cowboys offense has the horsepower to get him there theoretically, but the defense should be improved. Plus Mike McCarthy reportedly wants the team to be more balanced with the run game (which is a good thing).
In order for 6,000 passing yards to be possible this season Dak would have to throw for 353 yards a game. Certianly he is capable of doing that, but the formula for winning doesn’t always involve keeping your foot on the gas all of the time.
Things like the pace of the Cowboys offense and Dak’s own skillset as far as accuracy, depth of target, and so on should all remain about the same or hopefully even improve in 2021, however, this notion of 6k seems unlikely.
Dak doesn’t even really want a world where this is possible.
Cowboys QB Dak Prescott was on a 17-game pace to throw for 6,310 yards when he fractured ankle in Week 5 last season. He's not chasing 6,000 yards in 2021, he said. The opposite. "I don't want to throw for 6,000 yards, to be honest with you." pic.twitter.com/qYIOdOsRvi— Michael Gehlken (@GehlkenNFL) August 12, 2021
None of us should want him to throw for 6,000 yards. As entertaining as it might be, it would mean that things went really wrong in a number of other ways.