Unfortunately, the greatest defensive players of all-time past and present piece will have to wait another week. Let’s delve into the amount of criticism a certain Dallas Cowboys quarterback is having to endure, right now. Dak Prescott is no stranger to scrutiny, but some of the shots he’s taking from the sports world are flat-out unwarranted. Heading into his first season as the undisputed starter, he’s going to be under the microscope but come on now.
Cowboys Quarterback Dak Prescott Is No Stranger to Scrutiny
The NFL recently released its Top 100 players list for the 2016-17 season and Prescott’s peers voted him the 14th ranked player on the list. What has many people up in arms is the fact that his ranking symbolizes that he is the fifth best quarterback in the league. No one believes that! Not even the biggest Cowboys fans but Prescott surely had one of the best seasons at the position in his rookie year. So yes, for the 2016-17 season, this player was one of the five best to play quarterback. Never mind his stats. We’ll get to those in a little while.
Climbing the Depth Chart
First, let’s look at the circumstances in which the keys to maybe the league’s greatest franchise were loaned to him. Prescott’s story began at the start of training camp, when backup quarterback Kellen Moore broke his ankle. At the time, Moore was listed as the number two behind Tony Romo who was coming off of an injury-riddled season in 2015. Prescott was listed as the number three quarterback but was locked into a heated battle for the spot with second-year player Jameill Showers.
Prescott was a fourth round draft choice and definitely not expected to beat out Romo or Moore for any significant playing time. It didn’t matter to him. He just went about his business, learning the playbook and working to get better every single day. His work ethic helped position him to be ready if his number was to be called. He beat out Showers prior to the first preseason game.
When Romo returned to play in the team’s preseason dress rehearsal against the Seattle Seahawks on the road, the veteran quarterback suffered broken bones in his back, thrusting Prescott into action. All the youngster did was team up with rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott to attack the vaunted Legion of Boom on consecutive drives producing ten points. Prescott never wavered. He knew it was Romo’s team but he kept coming out and proving himself.
When it was revealed that Prescott would be the starting quarterback until Romo was ready to come back, the rookie handled it with nothing but class. As expected, he experienced some difficult times on opening night against the New York Giants. Looking at his stats from the game, it’s clear that he wasn’t the reason the Cowboys came away with a loss.
The youngster finished the game 25 of 45 with no touchdowns or interceptions. What stood out is the fact that he didn’t force anything. Prescott took what the defense gave him and kept his team in position to win throughout the entire game. They fell short 20-19 but the rookie showed no signs of being overwhelmed by the moment. There had to be some major nerves going on inside his body but Prescott maintained a steady hand and absorbed the criticism after his first start.
11 straight victories later, Prescott again faced a feisty Giants team but this time it was on the road. Although he may have played his worst game of the season, throwing two interceptions and completing only 17 of 37 passes for just one touchdown, the Cowboys were right there as the fourth quarter was winding down. Trailing 10-7, Prescott fired a strike to Dez Bryant on the final drive but the boisterous receiver fumbled the ball and the team’s chances away.
Prescott finished the regular season with a 13-3 record as the starter after Romo had conceded the position to the youngster a few weeks earlier. Romo saw what everyone else saw. He saw a young man who had earned the right to be the quarterback of America’s Team. Prescott hadn’t done anything to cost his team any games and he had made more than enough plays to contribute to their victories.
Rookie Quarterbacks Need Help
People love to call him a bus driver and he might be but how many rookie quarterbacks are asked to come into the situation he was in? He had an amazing offensive line, an outstanding running back and a good receiving corps. All he had to do was be good enough to not mess it up, but this player did much more than that. He elevated his team to a level that hadn’t been seen around Dallas in quite some time.
The Cowboys defense was considered its weakest link. This team wasn’t like the team a young Ben Roethlisberger had inherited in Pittsburgh that went 15-1. Roethlisberger’s Steelers were a defensive team with a few playmakers on offense. What Ben did was keep the train on the tracks with his impressive arm strength and his mobility. He was praised for his performance but it can be said that his defense carried him.
All rookie quarterbacks have to have something to hang their hats on. Prescott had his offensive line and his running back. Roethlisberger had his defense. Robert Griffin III had his ability to run the zone read offense and so on. The one thing the best rookie quarterbacks of all-time have done is manage games and stay away from the critical mistakes. One of Romo’s most hated traits was his gun-slinging mentality that surely cost the Cowboys a game or two in his career.
Head to Head With a Legend
Prescott’s season highlights weren’t complete until his performance in the divisional playoff loss to the Green Bay Packers. The game was the debut of some of the team’s veterans who were on the mend during the 2014 playoff run. Most importantly, it was the debut of a two-headed rookie monster with high expectations for themselves and their team in Prescott and Elliott.
Despite falling behind 21-3 at one point then 28-10 in the third quarter, Prescott produced at his highest level. He finished the game 24 of 38 with 302 yards, three touchdowns and a single interception. His cool hand pulled the Cowboys even as regulation was coming to an end but a miraculous throw by 11-year veteran quarterback Aaron Rodgers, catch by seven-year veteran tight end Jared Cook and kick by nine-year veteran placekicker Mason Crosby closed the deal as the Packers walked off the field with a 34-31 victory. It hurt but it was an indication of what this player is made of.
As mentioned earlier, Prescott is no stranger to scrutiny. He accepts it with a grin. He hasn’t arrived just yet but he’s coming. It’s that fact that encouraged his peers to select him as the 14th ranked player on the Top 100 list. Everyone knows it’s a list of the top players based on their performance during the previous season, not an indictment of their current ranking as the new season approaches. Some people receive votes because of their history but not Prescott. He earned it from what he did under pressure.
Historic Rookie Season
Ultimately, Prescott finished the regular season with 3,667 yards, 23 touchdowns and just four interceptions. He did end up with four fumbles lost after putting the ball on the ground nine times over 16 games, though. The league knows he’ll put the ball on the carpet. You can bet defensive coordinators will be scheming to put him in situations where he might give them the ball back. Prescott won’t volunteer it, though.
Finishing the full 17 games with 26 touchdowns and five interceptions confirms that he is more than a bus driver. He isn’t on the level of many other quarterbacks in the league but he’s climbing. He has worked tirelessly this off-season to become a better player than he was in 2016. He welcomes your scrutiny and raises the bar set by his rookie record 13 wins, 104.9 quarterback rating and six rushing touchdowns. The Cowboys hope Prescott takes full ownership of the offense and produces at a similar clip in 2017.