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Which version of 2021 Dak Prescott you should expect next season depends on which stats you trust more

While Cowboys fans are disappointed in Prescott’s post-bye week performance, was the pre-bye week pace unsustainable in the first place?

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Philadelphia Eagles Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Two groups arose following the Dallas Cowboys’ loss to the San Francisco 49ers in the Wild Card round. Group one believes that Dak Prescott’s pace in weeks one through six was unsustainable, and the second half of the season was more prescriptive of his actual ability. Group two is in the opposite camp, citing injury, changing defenses, or other issues as a reason for the decline.

There is little reason to trust the Cowboys’ QB1 moving forward if group one is correct. But group two would suggest that Dallas has the signal-caller to lead the Cowboys for years to come. So, which group is more accurate?

Which version of 2021 Dak Prescott should we expect next season?

Dak Prescott is no spring chicken. Since 2016, only eight quarterbacks have dropped back to pass more than Prescott. Therefore, we have a good sample size to understand if the pre or post-bye week Dak is a better measure of his true talent.

While it might be disappointing, the answer lies somewhere between the two. However, which one is closer to the correct answer?

Well, there is also nuance in that question as well. If you believe that Prescott’s entire career average indicates his ability, then post-bye week Dak is likely closer to what we will get in 2022.

But quarterbacks develop over time, and Cowboys fans can agree that Prescott looked significantly better in 2019 and his shortened 2020 campaign than he did in 2017. Thus, if you believe that a quarterback can grow and develop, then Dak is closer to his pre-bye week numbers.

So, let’s break it down a little further:

2021 Dak Prescott Against Past Averages

Metric Weeks 1-6 Dak Weeks 9-18 Dak Dak's Career Average 2019 Dak
Metric Weeks 1-6 Dak Weeks 9-18 Dak Dak's Career Average 2019 Dak
Adjusted Completion % 79.0% 75.2% 75.8% 76.1%
Yards per Attempt 8.4 6.6 7.6 8.2
PFF Grade 82.9 75.3 79.7 80.1
EPA per Play 0.171 0.079 0.112 0.133
Passing Touchdown Rate 7.4% 4.5% 4.9% 5.0%
Turnover Worthy Play % 2.3% 3.6% 2.9% 3.2%
Completion % over Expected 7.6% -0.6% 1.5% 1.0%
Passer Rating 115 92.3 98.2 99.7

We are looking at the beginning of the season versus the end of the season numbers, Dak’s career average, and his numbers in the last full season he played, 2019. The start of 2020 was strikingly similar to the beginning of 2021, but using a full-season sample size seems more accurate.

The most immediate takeaway is that neither the first six weeks nor the final ten games will continue next season. There is no single metric where both Dak’s career average and his 2019 play fall outside these two extremes.

If you want a quick summary, both groups seem to be wrong. There is no indication that pre-bye week Dak’s pace was sustainable, nor is there evidence that Prescott is the quarterback Cowboys fans saw in the back half of the year.

It’s not a coincidence that Dak’s career average and 2019 performance fall in the middle between this split. But this shouldn’t be surprising, it got ugly at times after the bye, and it was a historic pace before the bye.

But as previously stated, which group is “more right” depends on how you look at quarterback development. Here are the two ways that Cowboys fans can look at it:

  • The Career Average Argument: Dak’s career average is closer to his post-bye week performance than weeks one through six in adjusted completion percentage, EPA per play, passing touchdown rate, completion percentage over expected, and passer rating. There is enough evidence to suggest that his career average is closer to weeks nine through eighteen.
  • The 2019 Dak Argument: The last full season Prescott played (2019) is closer to pre-bye week Dak than weeks nine through eighteen Dak in the most meaningful metrics: PFF grade, EPA per play, and yards per attempt. There is more evidence to suggest that weeks one through six are closer to his actual ability because this is closer to what he did in his most recent, healthy season.

The difference between the two comes down to simple stats versus true measurements. By simple stats, Dak’s career average (and 2019) is closer to post-bye week Prescott. But by metrics that attempt to measure the all-encompassing performance of a quarterback (EPA, PFF, etc.), 2019 is more similar to pre-bye week Dak.

Consider this, in 2019, Dak was a top ten quarterback by both EPA per play and PFF grading. That means, the last full season Prescott was healthy, he was one of the ten best quarterbacks in the league.

Thus, it is reasonable to say that 2019 was closer to pre-bye week Dak, and Prescott’s career averages were more comparable to post-bye week Dak. The answer to which version of Prescott is closer to what Cowboys fans should expect moving forward is nuanced and cannot be answered definitively.

However, there are two aspects left to consider; in 2018, the Cowboys leading receiver by receptions was Ezekiel Elliott, and nearly every quarterback needs time to settle into the NFL. We expected 2017 Prescott to keep building on his success from 2016, but maybe he still needed that adjustment period. He also had a relatively weaker supporting cast until the back half of 2018.

This is not an attempt to prove that either group is more right than the other, but it is always helpful to have a bit of context.

So, here is what we know for certain, weeks one through six Dak was likely an anomaly, but it is equally likely that weeks nine through eighteen Dak was truly underperforming. Outside of that, it is up to personal opinion if you believe 2019 or the career average is a better measure of the “real Dak Prescott.”

Maybe this isn’t the resolution you expected, but no one can answer this question confidently. Cowboys fans just have to wait and hope for the best.

Poll

Which side do you fall on?

This poll is closed

  • 41%
    Weeks 1-6 Dak is closer to what we will see in 2022
    (159 votes)
  • 58%
    Weeks 9-18 is closer to what we will see in 2022
    (222 votes)
381 votes total Vote Now

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