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Did Cowboys’ Dak Prescott have the best rookie season of all time?

ARLINGTON, TX - NOVEMBER 24: Dallas Cowboys Quarterback Dak Prescott (4) gives a straight arm to Washington Redskins Safety Donte Whitner (39) during the NFL game between the Washington Redskins and the Dallas Cowboys on November 24, 2016, at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX. (Photo by George Walker/Icon Sportswire)
George Walker/Icon Sportswire

On Sunday, July 31st, 2016, I received a text from a friend who covers the Dallas Cowboys. He was at training camp and was observing practice, specifically Dak Prescott. Fans of Prescott pre- and post-draft were nervous about some of the reports coming out of camp. When asked about his observations on Prescott, here’s what he said:

“We need to have a conversation about Dak Prescott. He’s captain check down, and I think fans will be frustrated with that in the beginning if they don’t understand he’s very green. Let’s hope he never has to play. He’s the fourth quarterback in line right now.”

In fairness to him, he wasn’t wrong. Prescott was not a practice player in August. His footwork was a mess as he routinely struggled playing from under center, and his accuracy was erratic at best.

Kellen Moore was entrenched as the Cowboys’ No. 2 quarterback prior to his leg injury in camp. After Moore’s leg injury, the Cowboys’ made calls to see about the availability of Josh McCown and tried to sign Nick Foles. None of these moves were successful and the Cowboys were forced to move forward with Dak Prescott as their No. 2 quarterback for the rest of camp, despite the worrisome practices.

But when game time rolled around, he performed.

We saw this from his first snaps against the Los Angeles Rams in the preseason to his performance versus the Green Bay Packers in the playoffs. Prescott won 13 of the 15 games he played in (not counting that Eagles game because he played one drive) and set records for a rookie quarterback that may never be broken. But does that mean he had the greatest rookie season of all time?

Let’s first take a look at what some of the stats say. Pro Football Reference designed a metric that attempts to put a single number on the seasonal value of a player at any position from any year (since 1950). According to PFR’s AV for all rookies from 1950-2016, Dak Prescott finished 28th. Only three quarterbacks finished with higher AV’s during their rookie year; Cam Newton, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson. Here’s how all four performed during their rookie seasons:

Of the four quarterbacks, Prescott had the best touchdown to interception ratio and actually had the highest passer rating of the group. He protected the football, but not at the risk of becoming a dink-and-dunk quarterback. Of the four quarterbacks, the rookie out of Mississippi State had the most air yards and the second highest yards per attempt of the group. In terms of strictly the passing game, he didn’t have a mark on the passing resume. He also led a Cowboys team, who went 4-12 the year before, to a 13-3 record and a first-round bye in the playoffs.

Where Prescott really differs from these other three quarterbacks is that he wasn’t as productive on the ground as Newton, Griffin or even Russell Wilson. Almost all of Prescott’s yardage came through the air. He used his legs when he had to, but he didn’t rely on them much in his rookie season.

[graphiq id=”hlv6mjddqC1″ title=”Dak Prescott Overview” width=”800″ height=”400″ url=”https://w.graphiq.com/w/hlv6mjddqC1″ ]

As you can see, he had by far the fewest rushing attempts of the four but was still able to score six times on the ground. His running ability is an asset, but it’s never been his primary weapon.

What makes this discussion hard is positional importance.

How do you compare Prescott’s rookie year versus Randy Moss’ 17 receiving touchdowns? Or Jevon Kearse’s 14.5 sacks? Or Edgerrin James’ 2,139-yard season?

The answer is, you can’t. As good as Dak Prescott’s season was, there’s just no way to accurately compare it across positions. But even comparing him to other recent quarterbacks is tough because of the situation. Prescott fell into a team that had an elite rushing attack and already established weapons on the outside.

Dak Prescott had a fantastic rookie year. And if he can be more like Cam Newton and Russell Wilson rather than Robert Griffin III, the Cowboys will be just fine. It doesn’t really matter how great Prescott’s rookie year was, but more that he continues on it in 2017. 2016 should be the starting point, not the high point for Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys.

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