It’s week 1 of the NFL season. There is a lot of sentiment nationally that the Dallas Cowboys are going to take a back seat to the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC East. According to the thinking, the Eagles did a lot to improve their roster, as did the New York Giants and the Washington Commanders to an extent. Meanwhile, the Cowboys are seen to have taken a step back with what is considered a bungled offseason. The team that dominated the NFCE last season is just not what it was.
However, if you are looking for a ray of hope, Stephen Ruiz of The Ringer presented his ranking of all of the league’s projected starting quarterbacks. Ruiz does this all season. His look at the moment is based on what he observed last year, so there is certainly change coming for some. Nonetheless, his overall rankings for the NFCE looks very, very good for Dallas.
- Dak Prescott, 7th overall
- Jalen Hurts, 21st
- Daniel Jones, 26th
- Carson Wentz, 27th
That is a pretty huge gap in Prescott’s favor. If you subscribe to the theory that the quarterback is the chief determinant of the success of an NFL team, it says that the rumors of the Cowboys’ impending demise are a bit premature.
Ruiz’s methodology is to assign a score based on 100 points, derived from averaging six subcategories of QB play. Those subcategories are:
- Arm talent
- Decision making
- Pocket presence
Prescott comes in at 87.3 overall. His lowest is arm talent, and Ruiz observes that injuries hampered him there in 2021. The last three all grade out at 90 or better, with pre-snap being his best at 95.
A lot of people, especially those that are fans of the beloved division rivals the Eagles, find this ludicrous. However, when you look around at attempts to objectively rate QBs across the board, Prescott consistently lands somewhere in the second five range. Ruiz agrees, and builds a convincing case.
So what makes him so good? Here is what Ruiz says about his greatest strength.
It’s odd how little credit Dak receives for the work he does before the snap. It’s not like this is a recent development; he’s been vigilant in that phase of the game since his rookie season. He’s just a lot better at it now, which tends to happen as a quarterback gains experience. Dak’s success is often attributed to his offensive line, but he can be seen pointing them in the right direction on certain plays and making sure any potential pass rushers are accounted for. Next time you watch Dak play, pay attention to what he’s doing at the line of scrimmage.
In this, Prescott is only behind Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers. and Matt Ryan. Ryan is seen to be on the downside of his career, but Brady and Rodgers, who both are ahead of Prescott overall, are still believed to be near their peak. Prescott is notably younger than any of these three with more years ahead of him, although the way Brady and Rodgers keep going, that is not a given. Still, Father Time is lurking.
Most importantly, the Cowboys do not have to contend with any quarterback ranked ahead or even near Prescott to win their division. He has the tools and skills needed to win that. The uncertainty about Dallas’ prospects revolve around that previously mentioned failure to provide upgrades, or even reasonably suitable replacements, for players like Amari Cooper, La’el Collins, and even Cedrick Wilson. Add in the failure to have a solution on hand for the injury that has cost them Tyron Smith for much of the season and had to be addressed at the last minute by signing Jason Peters, and the ownership has just made it harder for their quarterback. It is also discouraging to already be seeing remarks from the front office about how he has to elevate the team around him. His big cap hit is a ready-made scapegoat for any failure along the way. It is unfair and petty.
But he does have some help in the other phases of the team. Dan Quinn’s defense looks as strong as any Dallas has fielded in at least a couple of decades. It is both talented and deep, at least based on what we saw in training camp. Micah Parsons is incomparable in the league today, and could be both the best pass rusher and off-ball linebacker. Trevon Diggs is looking to have a reprise of his league-leading interceptions last year. Led by DeMarcus Lawrence, the line is hoping to make life miserable for opposing quarterbacks, including Brady this Sunday. And in preseason, the cat was let out of the bag when KaVontae Turpin showed what he brings to the return game.
However, let’s return to focusing on the quarterbacks in the NFCE. Hurts has an element to his game that could offset some of the deficiencies Ruiz noted in his passing. He is a real asset in the running attack.
Hurts may not be the explosive runner that Lamar Jackson or Josh Allen is, but he’s someone you can build a run game around. He knows how to set up blocks and he’s got a thick build that can absorb contact. Philadelphia’s offense doesn’t feature the most complex passing game, but it doesn’t have to when the defense is forced to keep extra numbers in the box to account for Hurts.
Last year Hurts was the team’s leading rusher, with 784 yards and 10 touchdowns. That is a level of complexity that might confound some opponents. But Parsons is a good counter for the Cowboys. His speed and vision should go a long way to containing runs by Hurts. Unless Hurts shows some serious improvement in his ability as a passer, he will continue, as Ruiz notes, to leave meat on the bone. (His words, not mine.)
For the Giants, things are more dismal. Daniel Jones has not been surrounded by much talent at all so far in his career, and he seems a long way from being able to elevate them. Ruiz finds his decision-making to be the biggest liability.
Jones just can’t seem to get out of his own way. Whenever he’s able to build up some momentum, he’ll hold on to the ball a bit too long and take a sack, or he’ll inexplicably hit a linebacker in the chest with a pass. He was able to cut down on some of those mistakes last season, but he was far less aggressive when throwing downfield. Jones needs to find a middle ground.
No one is expecting much from the Giants this year. That seems reasonable.
And then there is Wentz. He is already on Ruiz’s list of quarterbacks who may be washed.
Carson Wentz has all the necessary tools to play at a top-10 level, as we saw earlier in his career. But his mechanics are shot, and his decisiveness is at an all-time low. That leads to throws that are either late or off target—and far too often both. Wentz’s best gift, his play-making ability, can also be a curse. For every off-platform deep ball, there’s an avoidable sack fumble or slapstick interception. He’s not too far removed from playing some legitimately good football, but the odds of him recapturing that form grow longer by the season.
The Commanders were the third team to invest a lot of draft capital to get Wentz. They also dumped a lot of cap space into his contract. Like the Indianapolis Colts before them, Washington seems to be hoping that Wentz can be something more like he was in 2017 before his injury. There is absolutely zero evidence that is achievable. He has flashes, but no consistency.
This does not mean that the Cowboys are going to cruise to the division title the way they did a year ago. The problems are real, especially on the offensive line that has to keep Prescott upright. That inexperienced bunch of wide receivers is also a big uncertainty. Still, if Prescott can play at the level Ruiz projects, Dallas is going to be in the thick of things, at the least. That is a bit of optimism that is not just wishful thinking. There is real analysis to back it up.