For the Dallas Cowboys, the hopes for the season are inexorably intertwined with the return of quarterback Dak Prescott. He is coming back after the devastating ankle injury that put him on injured reserve for most of 2020. On top of that, he had what has been repeatedly described as a minor issue with his throwing shoulder in camp. His recovery from that is also being characterized as completely on track for the season opener against the defending champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Hopefully all will go as advertised, and with his bevy of offensive weapons and a healthy offensive line, this could be a powerful offense.
That hope is predicated on Prescott being among the best quarterbacks in the league. Those who follow the team hope that is the case, but it would be nice to have some outside confirmation of that. Fortunately, ESPN just published such an evaluation. Here is how that was constructed.
To do so, we asked NFL analysts — Matt Bowen, Tim Hasselbeck, Mina Kimes, Booger McFarland, Louis Riddick, Mike Tannenbaum, Seth Walder, Field Yates, Pro Football Focus’ Sam Monson and Football Outsiders’ team of Aaron Schatz and Derrik Klassen — to rank their personal top 10 NFL quarterbacks entering the 2021 season in 12 distinct categories, from arm strength to field vision. We then combined those lists with a point-based system to generate a final ranking in each area, all 12 of which are below.
You certainly might question some of the members of the panel (cough) Hasselbeck (cough), but having multiple analysts with a variety of perspectives makes this worth consideration. Here is where Prescott landed in the twelve categories:
Dak Prescott’s quarterback council ratings
|Arm Strength||11*||Compete level||8|
|Field vision||6||Designed run ability||9|
|Decision making||7||Second reaction ability||7|
* Top vote getter among those who didn’t make the list
It is a pretty comprehensive view of the requisite skills and abilities needed to succeed in the NFL. It averages out to the Dallas QB being the eighth best quarterback overall.
It may be even better, because the rankings include Deshaun Watson, nominally of the Houston Texans. Due to his ongoing legal issues, he has not even practiced this year. Add that to his widely known wish to play elsewhere, and it is not certain he takes a snap the entire season. Essentially, Prescott moves up to seventh with Watson out of consideration.
Plug someone that good into the offense the Cowboys have constructed, and it should be formidable indeed. It is certainly possible that many of these ratings are a bit low. The time he has spent out of the game, the uncertainty generated by the shoulder problem, plus not testing that ankle at all in preseason games likely lowered some of the rankings. The fact that a player with so many questions swirling around him did so well is noteworthy. Here is one specific comment about him, under the mechanics section.
Biggest surprise: I would have bumped Prescott into the top five here, given his consistent ability to sync his upper- and lower-body mechanics together as a thrower. You can see the strong base, footwork and shoulder/hip rotation on the release to extend through his target. From a pure mechanics standpoint, you could make an argument that Prescott could jump in front of Mahomes and even Rodgers, who both lean more on their natural throwing ability. — Bowen
In any case, it is encouraging to see Prescott so close to being a top five quarterback in the eyes of this group. If he has the year Dallas fans hope he does, he will likely climb into that tier. Even if they are on target, it should be enough to get the Cowboys back into the playoffs, and perhaps even more than that. Part of that depends on whether the perceived improvement of the defense under Dan Quinn and with the massive infusion of new players is real or a mirage.
There are certainly some categories that may strike you as a bit low here, such as the ability to execute a designed run. That is something that may reflect continuing concerns about his ankle, but before the injury, he certainly seemed to be more a top five player in that respect.
Of course, this is just another preseason ranking, which are in and of themselves rather meaningless. Some of the names that crop up in most or all of the categories will have a down year, while other quarterbacks will rise up this kind of list as the season progresses. Still, at a time when we search widely for straws to grasp, this is a big one. With Prescott not taking the field in the final preseason game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, we won’t have any real indications of just how accurate these assessments are. But they do look good.