Scouting the Senior Bowl: Dak Prescott, QB, Mississppi State

prescottDak Prescott started his senior season as a player with a lot to prove.  His value for the NFL Draft was a true unknown, as many analysts began the year assuming that Prescott would become the next athletic quarterback likely to be forced into a position change to maximize his NFL opportunities.

The trending narrative around Prescott seems to be that he’s done enough during his 2015 campaign to be evaluated as a true quarterback prospect.  He finished his career at Mississippi State owning 38 school records, including: total TDs (107); pass attempts (1,085); completions (678); completion percentage (63%); passing TDs (64); passing yards (8,742); rushing yards by a quarterback (2,411); and 100 yard rushing games by a quarterback (9).  Needless to say, he was Mississippi State football during his tenure ‘under’ center.

In terms of his 2015 season as a quarterback, he threw for 3,313 yards, 25 TDs and only 4 INTs.  His completion percentage improved to just under 67%, up from 61.6% in 2014.  His 4 INTs is also evidence of his marked improvement as a passer; he threw 11 picks in 2014.  Prescott showed more discipline in the pocket, electing to run more as a last resort instead of as a first option. He ran the ball 62 fewer times, but still managed to eclipse 500 yards and 10 TDs.  His 2014 season was more indicative of his ability as a running threat.

Prescott will be one of six (maybe seven) quarterbacks in Mobile, Alabama for the Senior Bowl.  Prospects like Prescott are who the game is made for; a player with questions surrounding his game can answer them all with effective and impressive practices.

Despite the shifting narrative on Prescott, I’m still not sold that he’ll be an effective NFL quarterback.  Yes, I’m impressed that he was able to improve his game as a passer from 2014 to 2015, but my questions regarding his natural arm talent still exist.

Physically, there’s no denying Prescott’s impressive stature.  He’s unofficially listed at 6’2″ and 230 lbs.  While those measureables don’t jump off the paper, the weight distribution and physical make-up that Prescott naturally has is what’s most appealing.  He’s a thickly built guy with big legs and a powerful lower half.  He looks more like a powerful running back than a quarterback, which makes his rushing numbers less surprising.

Athletically, Prescott is an efficient and effective player in space despite not being the overly twitchy.  As I mentioned above, he’s a load to bring to the ground and as a result, he picks up just about every yard that’s available to him.  He possesses good balance and coordination and rarely looks like a guy who has lost control of his movements.

As a passer, Prescott is a work in progress.  He certainly has a strong arm; there’s no denying that he can throw it far and throw it fast.  But he’s simply not an accurate quarterback by any definition of the trait.  While I don’t think he’s as far gone as a guy like Logan Thomas (Virginia Tech) was a few years ago,  I do think he’s a full tier or two below his Senior Bowl counterpart Jacoby Brissett (NC State).  Prescott’s tape is littered with overthrows and wildly off-target passes.  That said, his physical stature (i.e., his ability to survive with power and strength in the pocket) was really impressive this past season and allowed for him to put more catchable intermediate throws on tape.  Last year, Prescott would tuck and run and leave the “passer” part of his game to your imagination.  He certainly has given evaluators more positives to draw from this year.  But, again, I find his natural passing ability to be too unreliable at this point to garner early round consideration.  When Logan Thomas was coming out of Virginia Tech, I surmised that his best chance at a long and fruitful NFL career would be if he decided to convert to tight end.  Prescott isn’t as far away as Logan Thomas was from being a NFL quarterback, but he’ll need to have the week of his life in Mobile to shake that potential projection.

When I evaluate Prescott as a pure football player, I love what I see.  Even as a quarterback, from the neck up, Prescott does have a lot of traits that I find appealing.  He’s a tough leader of men and was able to put Mississippi State on his back multiple times throughout his career.  There’s a lot of value in that.  I’d rather have a leader of men who needs work on his arm than a guy with a golden arm who can’t lead a two-year old to a bowl of candy.  Prescott wins big in that area.  In addition, he matured as a decision maker and, as referenced above, has taken a big step toward becoming a “throw-first” guy.

Throughout the 2015 season I’ve read analysts compare Prescott to Steve McNair, the former starting quarterback of the Tennessee Titans.  I just don’t see that at all.  McNair was a much more gifted passer coming out of Alcorn State resulting in a top-3 selection in the 1995 NFL Draft.  From a physical standpoint, yes, they are nearly identical.  But that’s just about where the comp ends for me.

I value Prescott as a Day Three player right now.  He has the passer’s traits of a 6th-7th rounder.  If he gets selected any higher than that, I believe he will be forced to meet unreasonable expectations.  My final grade on him will be heavily impacted by the Senior Bowl, more so than any player that I can remember in recent years.  If Prescott zips some clean, accurate throws during that week of practices, then there’s reason to believe that he is in fact continuing to trend upward as a pure quarterback.  If, however, he shows nothing new than what’s already on tape, then he’ll firmly remain in that later portion of Day Three for me.