For the first time in 2016 our spotlight won’t be on a player wearing a New York Giants uniform. Instead, we are going to take a closer look at a rookie who captured the attention of the NFL universe, Dak Prescott.
When Tony Romo went down with a fractured back, it was assumed that the Dallas Cowboys would have to scramble to find a starting quarterback, and they started to before Prescott took over the preseason. His athleticism was expected, but his ability as a passer wasn’t. Prescott consistently and accurately found his receivers, both on the run and in the pocket.
Nobody really saw what Prescott was able to do coming. I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t. Dak Prescott was probably my favorite quarterback to come out in the 2016 NFL Draft — not the most highly rated, but my favorite.
But while I cant, and won’t, say that I saw his 38-of-50, 454-yard, 7 TD (5 passing, 2 rushing) performance coming, neither can I say that I’m particularly stunned. I had followed his career at Mississippi State, and saw a player who grew tremendously over his time as a Bulldog. He transformed himself from a young player who was more running back who could throw the ball to a quarterback who was also able to threaten defenses with his legs.
Prescott was always big, tough, strong, and athletic. But each year became a more effective passer. It payed off in his senior campaign when he cut his interception total in half, upped his completion percentage from 61 to 66 percent, threw for more yards and touchdowns than the year before.
Prescott actually compares quite closely to Tim Tebow physically and as an athlete. But what separates the two is the former’s development as a quarterback.
For right now, though, Prescott still has work to do.
At Mississippi State, the spread-option offense usually kept Prescott in the backfield rather than under center. As a result, his footwork doesn’t appear to be "natural" yet. His feet look to be a heavy and plodding in his drop. He also seems to throw flat-footed, rather than transferring his weight to generate power. His considerable arm strength lets him get away with that under ideal conditions. However, if he is forced off his spot, relying on muscling the ball with just his arm could (should) cause his accuracy to suffer.
Giants' sophomore safety Landon Collins knows just how hard it is to defend Prescott. He had to do it when he played for Nick Saban and the Alabama Crimson Tide.
"I made a closing interception." Collins said. "My man (defensive lineman) A’Shawn Robinson tipped the ball. It was a slant. I didn’t even know the slant was coming. I was going for the breakup, but he tipped it up, I dove for it and caught the interception. That was really the end of the game after that. We got the offense back out with the ball and they ran the clock out."
"It was hard to throw on our defense," Collins said. "He got it to his open guys. He threw for (almost) 300 yards in that game. There weren’t many quarterbacks that could do that. He proved why he was a great quarterback in the SEC. We tipped our hats to him, but we couldn’t let him get the win. You knew he was a dual quarterback and had a lot of weapons. He had a great arm and we knew he was going to throw the ball down the field and try and get it to his guys. If he couldn’t get it down the field, he was going to run it. So definitely keep him contained and make sure we stop him on those third downs and get him off the field."
Perhaps those memories of game planning for Prescott, who had quarterbacked Mississippi State to its first ever No. 1 ranking, will help the Giants as they prepare for the rookie quarterback.
And while the Giants’ defense can scheme to deal with the Cowboy’s offensive line, limit Prescott’s fellow rookie backfield-mate Ezekiel Elliott, and familiar foes Dez Bryant and Jason Witten, the one thing they can’t take away is Prescott’s mental strength and his drive as a leader.
That came from his mother.
Peggy Prescott passed away on Nov. 3, 2014 after a long battle with colon cancer. It’s for his mother, whom he calls his best friend, that Prescott plays and why he holds himself to a high standard.
"She’s not here anymore, but she’s not hurting," Prescott said (before the draft). "She’s at this table. She’s got a good seat at every game. She did her job. She raised three boys. She would obviously be mad at some of the stuff I’ve done, but I’m living and learning. She would say the same thing: You live and learn. In my 20 years of knowing her, she raised me to who I am. I live every day, thinking about how she hurt. Nothing I face will come close to that.
"I think about the things she taught me, about putting others first and that selfless attitude. She would kick my ass if I wasn’t like that. I know I can go a long way if I just stick to that."