The Dallas Cowboys’ offense will look pretty similar to the 2016 version Sunday when they take on the Giants. Dak Prescott will be under center, he’ll hand the ball off to Ezekiel Elliott close to 30 times and spread the ball around to a solid receiving corps.
Things get tricky week two. Elliott is likely to miss six games at some point this season and for the sake of the Cowboys and fantasy owners everywhere “the sooner the better”. If that happens, Zeke will miss games against Denver, Arizona, Green Bay and Washington. The burden of keeping the offense afloat will fall at the feet of the second-year quarterback out of Mississippi State. Coming into year two in the offense and his first offseason as the unquestioned starter, fans and critics alike should be expecting Prescott to do just that and even improve upon what was arguably the greatest rookie season by a quarterback ever.
What you’re likely hearing or saying or reading, however, is that Dak Prescott is likely to falter. The “sophomore slump” is going to set in and with a defense that has a lot of question marks on the back end Dallas could falter and miss the playoffs this year.
Is the sophomore slump real? I looked at 27 quarterbacks drafted since 2005 who have started at least 5 games as rookies and 10 games in their sophomore seasons and placed them into three categories: guys that improved upon their rookie years, guys who remained virtually the same and players whose production slipped, aka the sophomore slump.
The “Empire Strikes Back” division for quarterbacks who improved from year one to year two
Quarterbacks: Alex Smith, Jay Cutler, Trent Edwards, Joe Flacco, Mark Sanchez, Josh Freeman, Blaine Gabbert, Christian Ponder, Andrew Luck, Nick Foles, Blake Bortles, Derek Carr, Marcus Mariota
This group could easily be divided between guys who had solid rookie years and improved and guys who were really terrible as rookies and weren’t completely garbage in their second season. Smith, Edwards, Gabbert and Bortles were all really bad as rookies and, with the exception of Smith, turned out to be not very good quarterbacks. But they did improve from year one to year two. Bortles in particular was shocking as he threw more than three times as many touchdowns while lowering his interception rate. His QBR jumped from 31.7 to 55.9. Prescott clearly doesn’t fit with this group.
The wishful thinking for Prescott is that he improves this season, placing him with Freeman, Luck, Foles, Carr and Mariota. The reason he doesn’t really fit in with this group is that although these guys had solid first years, they threw a lot of interceptions. They were able to cut back on that to the point of huge improvements across the board. Prescott threw just four picks last year and with a bigger burden on offense it’s hard to imagine him throwing less than that.
If you’re looking for the comparison in this group, it’s Marcus Mariota. He remained relatively the same but threw 7 more touchdowns (19 to 26) and only nine picks while improving his QBR by 13 points. The Titans also won five more games.
The “Hangover II” division for quarterbacks who were basically the exact same
Quarterbacks: Jason Campbell, Matt Ryan, Colt McCoy, Cam Newton, Andy Dalton, Ryan Tannehill, Russell Wilson, Geno Smith, Teddy Bridgewater, Jameis Winston
This group is interesting because nearly every player with the exception of Smith was really solid as a rookie. It’s also interesting because despite the name of the division, most of these players weren’t carbon copies of themselves. Ryan’s completion percentage dropped two points but he threw six more touchdowns in fewer games. Campbell’s completion percentage went way up but his touchdown percentage went down and he threw five more picks. Cam Newton threw fewer touchdowns and fewer interceptions and his QBR remained virtually identical.
The ideal comparison for Dak Prescott is Russell Wilson in my opinion. Both guys were undervalued out of college and they both came into great situations as rookies and were very successful. Wilson was a miracle Falcons comeback away from an NFC championship while Dak was a miracle Aaron Rodgers throw from the same game. In 2013, Wilson’s completion percentage, touchdowns and interceptions all stayed basically the same. If Prescott can duplicate the sophomore season of his doppelganger the Cowboys are in for another postseason visit.
The “Dumb and Dumber To” division for quarterbacks who got worse in their second season and made us question why we liked them in the first place
Quarterbacks: Vince Young, Sam Bradford, Robert Griffin III, Brandon Weeden
Not a great look for the Big 12 here. Vince Young wasn’t able to build on an awesome rookie season that saw him lead the Titans on five game winning drives in 13 starts. Bradford dropped off pretty harshly from a solid rookie season and started his annual ritual of missing large chunks of the season. Brandon Weeden played for the Browns and it still remains to be seen why they thought it was a good idea drafting a 28-year old rookie.
But clearly, the poster child for the sophomore slump is RGIII. After setting the world on fire as a rookie and leading Washington to a division championship and a playoff berth, Griffin struggled in his second year and Washington went 3-10 with him at the helm. Maybe it was Griffin not giving his injured knee enough time to heal, maybe it was that he was more ineffective once NFL defenses figured out the Baylor concepts Washington was running or maybe it was that for some reason Washington drafted Kirk Cousins in the second round in 2011 instead of literally any other player that could help the team. Whatever the case, the drop was startling. Four fewer touchdowns, seven more picks, a huge drop in completion percentage and eight more sacks. His QBR went from 70.7 to 53.7.
Dak Prescott could very well end up in this group. But I don’t see it at all. His supporting cast, even without Elliott, is outstanding. He’s clearly mature beyond his years as evidenced by being voted a team captain this season. And from what we have seen in the preseason, he has more confidence pushing the ball down the field without risking a turnover.
Dak Prescott, and by extension the Cowboys, is in for a huge season. Believe the hype.