Greg Cosell's QB Study: Is Dak Prescott ready to shine?

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Greg Cosell
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Dak Prescott will start against the New York Giants on Sept. 11. (AP)
Dak Prescott will start against the New York Giants on Sept. 11. (AP)

With one hit on Tony Romo, rookie Dak Prescott went from an intriguing preseason story to the Dallas Cowboys’ starting quarterback.

Romo will miss a significant portion of the regular season with a broken bone in his back, so we have to examine Prescott differently. He’s no longer a rookie who can develop behind Romo. He has to play right away.

The good news is Prescott has shown some advanced quarterbacking skills, albeit in preseason games.

One thing that has stood out in Prescott’s preseason film is that he’s comfortable in the pocket, especially against the blitz. Some quarterbacks never master that, so it’s impressive to see it from a rookie.

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I want to look first at how Prescott reacted to the rush. The Los Angeles Rams came right at him, with two blitzes on his first series. Both times he saw the blitz and reacted with poise and composure. This throw was especially good, because he delivered a completion right where the blitz came from:

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Here’s a touchdown pass against the blitz in Dallas’ second preseason game against the Miami Dolphins. It’s a back shoulder throw to Brice Butler, and Prescott was comfortable in the pocket even though the linebacker blitz came clean and was in his face:

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Prescott continued to show good poise and composure in the pocket last week at the Seattle Seahawks. This is a high-level quarterbacking play: The Cowboys ran a three-level stretch concept with a high-low nested within the play. The Seahawks had a Cover 3 zone. Prescott was pressured by Frank Clark, but he was oblivious to it (in a good way) and understood the coverage and where to go with the ball. Then when he delivered to Butler, his throw was placed so it throttled Butler down into the void in the intermediate seam. Very impressive:

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Prescott also has shown, at times, the ability to go through his progressions. Example: On Prescott’s first play after Romo’s injury in Seattle, coming in cold off the bench in the middle of a series, he looked left to the three-receiver side, then comfortably came back to the right to hit Cole Beasley for 12 yards.

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The Cowboys are also calling plays to help their young quarterback. After two preseason games, the Cowboys did not have one straight dropback from under center. Prescott was a shotgun spread quarterback at Mississippi State; he did not play many snaps under center. So the Cowboys are using a lot of play-action fakes, bootlegs and shotgun sets with Prescott. They also have used a little bit of read-option in the run game. These are things that can make Prescott comfortable.

There are some basic route concepts with some either/or reads for Prescott. Here’s a good read by Prescott against the Rams — on a play-action fake, the Cowboys had a high-low concept to the boundary against a Cover 2 zone. Prescott showed good patience in delivering a 22-yard completion to Butler. This is a big-time NFL throw:

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This was an either/or read for Prescott. It’s a post-cross route combination against Miami, and Prescott read the defense and went with the crossing route for 12 yards.

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Prescott has also shown off his arm strength. He had a nice 58-yard gain to Butler against Miami, a throw that went 62 yards in the air on the post route (and Prescott did well to read the deep safety on the play). He has had many sharp throws through the preseason. On a 32-yard touchdown to Terrance Williams, Williams separated on a slant-and-go route and Prescott dropped it right in the bucket.

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We’ve seen a lot of good things from Prescott, though there will likely be some rookie moments. Prescott’s college film before the draft showed that he had significant footwork issues and he lacked timing and anticipation. He looked like more of a see-it, throw-it type quarterback. That’s something to keep an eye on when the regular season starts. He had a lot of one-read concepts with defined schemed throws in college, and he was very comfortable with that. While the Cowboys will help out their rookie quarterback with defined reads, he’ll need to continue to show some of the positive things he has done playing from the pocket this preseason. He doesn’t have much experience dropping back from center, so the Cowboys might have to keep scheming to keep him comfortable in that aspect of the game. Don’t expect to see many straight dropbacks in the Cowboys’ passing game as long as Prescott starts.

Here’s an example of Prescott’s footwork issues. At Mississippi State he had a tendency to drift and throw off balance. I saw that on a touchdown to Dez Bryant in his second preseason game. Prescott didn’t set his feet and drifted to his left. This was on his Mississippi State film too. His throw was not accurate but Bryant’s stutter-go route beat cornerback Byron Maxwell so easily that it was still a touchdown. The result was good and that play made the highlights, but it’s a bad habit that can lead to mistakes down the road.

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We have seen three solid performances from Prescott in the preseason. He looked poised and aware, stood in against the rush and made good decisions. Now we have to see if the positives carry over to the regular season. Prescott is in an important spot now.

Previously on Greg Cosell’s QB Study:

Blake Bortles needs some help

Jameis Winston is really impressive

Play-calling to maximize Teddy Bridgewater

What Jimmy Garoppolo has to clean up

Who is the Broncos’ best option?

The plan to turn around Robert Griffin III

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NFL analyst and NFL Films senior producer Greg Cosell watches as much NFL game film as anyone. Throughout the season, Cosell will join Shutdown Corner to share his observations on the teams, schemes and personnel from around the league.