Between an ankle injury and a shoulder injury, both of which varied greatly in terms of severity, it’s been quite a while since Cowboys fans got to see Dak Prescott really let it rip. In fact, when Prescott takes the field on Thursday night for the season opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, it will be just three days shy of exactly 11 months since the last time he played in a game of any kind.
So allow this to serve as a reminder that Rayne Dakota Prescott is, indeed, very good.
It’s easy to talk about the gaudy numbers Prescott was putting up before his injury last year, and just as easy to dismiss that as the byproduct of having to pass a lot to make up for his terrible defense. But the advanced statistics reveal that Prescott has actually been one of the NFL’s very best deep passers over the last two years, as illustrated by this graph that our own Aidan Davis generated:
As you can see, this graph takes a look at adjusted completion percentage on throws over 20 yards (which is the league-wide definition for deep passes) as it relates to QBR on said deep passes. Prescott’s 2019 season, in which he set many different career highs, ranks as one of the very best on both axes. His 2020 season was even better, although the small sample size is important to consider.
Still, in the last two years Prescott has been near the top of the NFL in both adjusted completion percentage and QBR when going deep. This is notable for a couple of reasons, the first being that each of those last two years have featured Kellen Moore calling plays for Prescott. Moore introduced a lot of new aspects to the offense when he took over, but an increased emphasis on throwing deep was one of the bigger changes.
In three years under Scott Linehan, Prescott was averaging 7.5 adjusted yards per attempt and in 2018 - the last season with Linehan at the helm - Prescott recorded just 1,993 completed air yards. Under Moore, Prescott’s adjusted yards per attempt has jumped up considerably to 8.4, and in 2019 he tallied 2,984 completed air yards. In 2020, with just five games played, he had 1,046 completed air yards.
It’s very clear that Moore’s emphasis on going deep more often has worked. Prescott’s numbers have jumped and it’s become evident that Moore tapped into a trait of the quarterback’s skillset that was previously being underutilized.
Another big change for Prescott over the last two years was a drastic improvement in his mechanics, spurred by the presence of Jon Kitna as his quarterbacks coach for the 2019 season. With a significantly smoother throwing motion, Prescott has seen improvements in accuracy everywhere, but especially on deeper throws where accuracy and velocity matter most.
It also helps that Prescott has some great weapons to work with too. Michael Gallup is known for his deep threat ability, and the connection between him and his quarterback has played a big role in unlocking the deep ball for Dak. Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb are also extremely talented receivers who open up a lot of throwing lanes for Prescott.
But it’s quite clear that Prescott has been exceptional on his own when throwing deep the last two years, no matter who’s on the receiving end. Now that he’s back and fully healthy for the 2021 season, it’s exciting to think of what he could do if he keeps this up.