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Dak Prescott is trying to take another leap forward in his throwing mechanics

Could we see the quarterback finally ascend to the top tier of quarterbacks now?

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NFC Wild Card Playoffs - San Francisco 49ers v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

As is the case every year, the start of the Cowboys’ training camp was soon followed by celebrating the birthday of their quarterback, Dak Prescott. As Prescott turned 29 this past Friday, it was a little strange to think that he’s already entering his seventh season in the NFL. It seems like just yesterday that Prescott shocked the league by winning Offensive Rookie of the Year after being selected in the fourth round.

As could be expected for a player who took the league by storm, Prescott’s career has always had its fair share of debate attached to it. Many argued that he wasn’t one of the NFL’s better quarterbacks for quite some time, which at least played a part in Prescott spending more time honing his throwing mechanics ahead of the 2019 season.

The result was Prescott ranking ninth in expected points added (EPA) per play and 11th in completion percentage over expectation (CPOE) among qualifying players since 2019, massive upticks in efficiency from Prescott’s up-and-down performances in 2017 and 2018.

Still, Prescott isn’t considered among the NFL’s elite quarterbacks yet. In the annual quarterback tiers, compiled by Mike Sando of The Athletic, 50 anonymous NFL coaches and executives placed Prescott into the second tier of quarterbacks, ranked 11th overall, and justified it by saying:

“I think he is a 2, which is not bad,” a personnel director said. “Some of these teams that have Tier 1 quarterbacks, the line is OK to questionable and they are still producing, whereas Dak has generally had a talented offensive line and he still gets that mixed performance.”

“I don’t think there is a major flaw in his game, but I’m not sure if he has like truly hit that upper echelon,” a defensive coach said. “I think he is a very healthy 2, a 2-plus.”

“He played like how he always does,” a head coach said. “He’s a solid player. Really solid. He’s not going to change and all of a sudden become something more special.”

That head coach may end up being proven wrong, though. While Prescott’s previous three seasons have certainly improved the league-wide perception of him, there is still room to grow. And early reviews from training camp this year suggest Prescott may have already made those improvements.

A major story this time last year was Prescott’s return from a devastating ankle injury that ended his 2020 season, which was off to a career year statistically for the quarterback. It definitely didn’t appear to hamper his play early on in the year, but when Prescott missed a game with a minor calf injury on the same leg as his ankle injury the year prior, many noticed a regression in the quarterback’s play going forward.

Prescott’s comments about being able to focus primarily on his footwork and not his ankle this year may hint at something that some fans had theorized last year during the quarterback’s - and the team’s - slump: that Prescott was being held back, mentally, by the ankle/calf injuries.

With less than a week of training camp in the books, it certainly sounds like Prescott has moved on from that. By now, his leg should be fully healed, and the quarterback has taken advantage of that by putting even more work into his footwork and throwing mechanics.

Mike McCarthy echoed what both Prescott and tight end Dalton Schultz had noted, which is that Prescott has put a lot of work into being able to deliver accurate strikes from any throwing motion. This type of development generally makes it easier for quarterbacks to throw while on the move, regardless of which way they’re moving and which way they’re throwing.

It’s the kind of mechanics that have led to first-tier quarterbacks like Aaron Rodgers, Josh Allen, and Patrick Mahomes producing highlight reel plays on a regular basis, and it now seems that Prescott is working on mastering that skill as well.

This should also be considered a plus due to the perceived regression of talent the Cowboys offense experienced this offseason. Between losing two starters on the offensive line, Amari Cooper, and not having Michael Gallup available at the start of the season, Prescott may need to be able to deliver accurate passes on the run at a higher rate anyway.

The caveat, of course, is that we’re in the midst of everyone’s “best shape of my life” phase right now. But the last time Prescott said he was putting in work on his mechanics, it translated to the field in a very tangible way. If Prescott can take another leap forward in his mechanics, it could be enough to finally elevate him to the top-tier of quarterback play, which would be huge for the Cowboys.