Math Says That Dak Prescott Could Succeed With the Dallas Cowboys
Now that we know that Tony Romo's likely to miss significant time for the Dallas Cowboys, the doom and gloom are about to creep in. Romo's one of the most efficient quarterbacks of the past decade, and losing him takes a buzzsaw to all optimism surrounding the team's outlook.
Spoke with #Cowboys COO Stephen Jones last night. As @SI_PeterKing wrote, Jones wouldn’t rule out a Brady/Bledsoe situation with Dak/Romo.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) August 29, 2016
Not that the Jones family has ever exaggerated a quarterback's abilities, right?
Jerry Jones on @1053thefan: Brandon Weeden is "a thing of beauty throwing the football. Frankly, you won't see a more gifted passer."
— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) September 22, 2015
Well, all righty, then.
The praise for Prescott is at least justifiable given how solid he has looked in the preseason. However, as we've been reminded tirelessly in the past, preseason production really tells us nothing about a player's true abilities.
This doesn't mean that Prescott won't be able to succeed with the Cowboys. In fact, there may not be any situations more conducive to it than the one he has acquired in Dallas.
Let's take a deeper look at Prescott and the Cowboys' offense to see -- without discussing his preseason production -- why this ship may not have sunk just yet.
We've seen in the past that we can use collegiate efficiency numbers to get a glimpse at how a passer may fare once he reaches the NFL. For Prescott, although his marks at Mississippi State weren't other-worldly, they really weren't too bad, either.
Over his final two seasons, Prescott racked up 56 touchdown passes compared to 16 interceptions, giving him an adjusted yards per attempt (AY/A) of 8.8. His career AY/A of 8.3 is the 10th best in SEC history, and he was third in the conference each of those final two seasons.
When we looked for benchmark stats in a top-tier collegiate quarterback, the marks most conducive to success at the next level were 36 games with at least 10 pass attempts, a final-year passing efficiency rating of 165, and an AY/A of 9.3. While Prescott doesn't quite reach the efficiency marks (he was at 151 and 8.7, respectively, his Senior year), he was close, and he had exactly 36 games with at least 10 pass attempts. He wasn't in the same realm of collegiate efficiency as guys like Marcus Mariota or Russell Wilson, but he was still respectable.
Based on this, it wouldn't seem a stretch to say that Prescott is worthy of playing quarterback in the NFL. When you have a system as cushy as the one he inherits with the Cowboys, that may be all the talent he needs.
In order for a young quarterback to succeed, you'd think they'd need a top-tier offensive line, an elite wide receiver, and a dependable tight end to make the transition. That's what Prescott gets in Dallas, and it has shown in the past that it can aid even potentially lesser passers.
Kellen Moore took over the reins during the team's Week 15 game against the New York Jets, and although his sample wasn't robust, Moore truly wasn't that terrible. We can quantify this using numberFire's Net Expected Points (NEP), the metric we use to track the efficiency of both teams and players. It makes Moore's audition look largely solid.
Moore finished those two and a half games with 109 drop backs, making him one of 46 quarterbacks to reach the mark on the year. He was 22nd among them in Passing NEP per drop back, ranking ahead of guys like Alex Smith, Blake Bortles, Derek Carr, and -- although this was largely aided by injuries -- Andrew Luck and Aaron Rodgers.
This isn't to say that Moore was better than those guys. Absolutely not. But the system he inherited when he became the Cowboys' starter was one that allowed his potentially lackluster talent to get by with a passing grade. This -- when combined with Prescott's collegiate numbers -- is why it's not impossible to envision a scenario in which Prescott keeps the Cowboys afloat until Romo is able to return.
No matter how you spin it, going from Romo's consistent efficiency to a rookie quarterback is going to hurt the Cowboys. It would be impossible for this not to happen. But the team shouldn't necessarily abandon all hope just yet.
Prescott was a successful college quarterback who enters the NFL with a solid amount of experience under his belt. It's not as if he was some run-first athlete at that level who will need to completely learn how to play the position. That alone should rekindle a slight amount of hope.
In starting with the Cowboys, Prescott has a perfect situation. The offensive line will keep him upright, Dez Bryant and Jason Witten can help compensate for mistakes, and the team can lean on Ezekiel Elliott when game flow allows them to do so. There are few offenses better equipped to coddle a rookie passer than that which the Cowboys have.
In order to perform well with this team, Prescott may not need to have the most individual talent. That makes the upsides if he does possess that even greater. We should be down on the team as a whole with Romo out of the lineup, but there are reasons to believe that Prescott could perform well in his stead, and if he can even be passable, this team may be able to stay in the hunt until Romo can return.