Too early to label Dak Prescott a system quarterback

HOUSTON, TX - FEBRUARY 03: Dallas Cowboys Quarterback Dak Prescott wins 2016 Pepsi Rookie of the Year award on February 3, 2017 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Joe Scarnici/Getty Images for Pepsi)
HOUSTON, TX - FEBRUARY 03: Dallas Cowboys Quarterback Dak Prescott wins 2016 Pepsi Rookie of the Year award on February 3, 2017 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Joe Scarnici/Getty Images for Pepsi) /

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott faces unwarranted labeling after a highly successful rookie season.

During uneventful portions of the football offseason, the NFL focused media likes to assess players by comparing them against each other. It both invokes conversation and inspires emotion from fans desperate to see their teams back in action. One Dallas Cowboy, quarterback Dak Prescott, has become a major focus among these discussions.

NFL Network’s “Top 100 Players of 2017” set the bar on creating hype for Prescott by projecting him to be the 14th best player in the upcoming season. The show has consistently been critiqued in the past for questionable rankings (former quarterback Tim Tebow‘s presence on the 2012 list received much ridicule). That skepticism has continued, with analyst Bucky Brooks being among the latest sportswriters to scrutinize Prescott’s true value.

Brooks wrote an article that divided ten high profile players into the categories of “star player” or “system guy.” A system guy was considered someone who thrives in a system that caters to their talents. Prescott was the first among five names labeled system players.

Brooks’ rationale can be summarized by the following points: 1) Prescott has a talented supporting cast, and 2) he was asked to run plays that shared similarities from the ones called during his college days at Mississippi State.

The article goes on to mention that the Cowboys did not consider Prescott their top quarterback target heading into the draft, but that shouldn’t play a part in identifying his level of talent. Old draft grades haven’t impacted how previously undervalued players such as 6th round pick New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady are evaluated.

It’s true that Prescott benefited from being surrounded by talented players. It would be challenging to argue that his level of success would have been the same on a less talented team (such as the Cleveland Browns). And no one is denying the Dallas Cowboys didn’t attempt to simplify their offensive system to help a rookie athlete handle the most challenging position in football (and arguably all sports).

But why should Prescott be critiqued for playing with a strong supporting cast? Why is it that something analysts feel should be held against him? The implied narrative is that Prescott’s success in his rookie year shouldn’t be viewed as an incredible feat but rather almost expected. Much like how Dallas running back Ezekiel Elliott‘s season is seen by some as less impressive due to the All-Pro offensive line in front of him, it now appears Prescott can’t be trusted as a star until he proves he can take over games without his best teammates.

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That mindset is overly critical because it doesn’t provide Prescott the benefit of the doubt. It suggests that a player isn’t a star unless he rises to the occasion when everyone fails around him. One must wonder whether former Dallas Cowboys Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman would have been seen as one of the best quarterbacks of all time if people believed his success was all primarily owed to being on one of the best rosters in NFL history.

And despite the small sample of games Prescott has started in, he has already displayed an ability to lead the offense in crucial situations. He scored in overtime to beat the Philadelphia Eagles. He moved the offense down the field in the final seconds against the Pittsburgh Steelers to set up Elliott’s touchdown run. And if it hadn’t been for the Green Bay Packers’ unbelievable last second field goal to win the divisional playoff game, there’s a strong chance the story line of the game would have centered around Prescott’s heroics (300 passing yards with three touchdowns).

There’s a valid argument to be made that Prescott is a star until proven otherwise (rather than the other way around as Brooks suggests). Both his QBR and QB rating (both 3rd among starting quarterbacks in the NFL) suggest he clearly possesses a high ceiling. And if that still seems like too much of a reach, perhaps critics should be patient and give him one or two more years to prove his abilities rather than feel the need to immediately label him.

The reality is that there have been few, if any, quarterbacks who deserved being labeled a star after their rookie season. Most quarterbacks take years to get close to their prime. Prescott will likely not be playing close to his best football until his late twenties or early thirties. Which begs the question: why does anyone feel now is an appropriate time to judge whether Prescott will rise to the top quarterback tier? The judgement feels rushed.

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Over time, there will be more game film to pinpoint what Prescott adds to the team. For now, all we can definitively say is that he played at a level higher than most, if not all, the best quarterbacks in NFL history in their rookie seasons. That, more than anything, suggests that Prescott should be considered more than just a system quarterback.