ESPN+: Prescott is 2023 MVP, 7 Cowboys make Walder’s top-100 ballot

ESPN’s Seth Walder is one of the finest analytical minds the football world has to offer. Walder is the face of metrics that help explain the why of what happens, such as pass-block win rates, double-team rates, motion-at-the-snap rates and others. He doesn’t do it by himself, of course, ESPN has a vast network of analytical guys and girls that pour hours into quantifying things beyond the eye test. Hopefully one day their work will be the driving force behind all of the talking-head opinions.

Haha. Still, in looking back on the 2023 regular season — it’s a shame the playoffs were totally cancelled this year and the NFL won’t return until September, right? Right?? — Walder has once again objected to the AP only going five deep when it comes to the MVP award. Instead, he rolls out his ballot that goes all the way to 100. Sitting atop the perch? Dallas Cowboys QB Dak Prescott.

Prescott was one of three Cowboys to land in Walder’s top-eight, and one of seven to make the rankings overall. Not a lot of solace with such a disappointing end to the season, but Dallas does have a ton of talent on their roster. While it clearly doesn’t guarantee results, it’s certainly better to have than not.

1. Dak Prescott, QB, Cowboys

The MVP race was murky, but the evidence points to Prescott at No. 1. He finished second in QBR (72.6) and expected points added (EPA) per play and first in points above average.

One number that jumped out to me and speaks to Prescott’s accuracy: He led the league in completion percentage over expectation (4.7%), per NFL Next Gen Stats, despite having the league’s third-highest receiver drop rate (5.3%). Just 43% of his passing yards came from yards after the catch, which was the fourth-lowest rate among QBR-qualified passers.

Losses in Weeks 15 and 16 likely cost Prescott the actual MVP, but for me, this award should be about a quarterback’s play over the entire regular season. Prescott was the guy in 2023.

6. CeeDee Lamb, WR, Cowboys

If it weren’t for Hill, we’d be talking a lot more about Lamb’s incredible season, because his numbers are amazing. He had 1,749 receiving yards — only 50 shy of Hill — and led the league in receptions (135). He ranked second to Hill in yards per route run vs. man coverage and second only to Keenan Allen (who played less) in open score (87). The most important player on the Cowboys this season was Prescott, but Lamb was mighty valuable, too.

Parsons was simply amazing at disrupting the quarterback. His 35.4% pass rush win rate broke the record for the metric’s history (since 2017), beating Joey Bosa’s 33.7% in 2017. He had a 54.2% pass rush win rate when single-teamed (again, the highest in the league). It was with volume, too, as his 105 pass-rush wins were the most in the metric’s history and 21 more than Myles Garrett this season.

Pressures told a similar story. Parsons had 14 sacks and led the league in pressure rate at 17%, though he trailed Maxx Crosby by a couple of total pressures. Oh, and he did this all while being double-teamed at the highest rate while playing edge (35%) of any player in the league.

The Other 4

44. DaRon Bland, CB, Cowboys
46. Tyron Smith, OT, Cowboys
78. Brandon Aubrey, K, Cowboys
85. Zack Martin, G, Cowboys

Story originally appeared on Cowboys Wire