Heading into the NFL Scouting Combine, the consensus about who are the top three quarterbacks in the 2016 draft class has not changed. Most have either California’s Jared Goff or North Dakota State’s Carson Wentz as the best signal-caller in the draft, with Memphis’ Paxton Lynch seen as a player with significant upside at No. 3 behind that duo.
Below that triumvirate, though, the picture is somewhat muddled. However, Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott is a player who seems to be on the rise going into the Combine. Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller recently reported Prescott is “flying up draft boards”, saying scouts are impressed with his football IQ and see him as this year’s Russell Wilson.
Prescott will have another chance to impress league personnel in Indianapolis in the on-field drills and the interview room and, if he can catch the eye like he did in the four seasons he played with the Bulldogs and at the Senior Bowl – where he was voted as the MVP – then Prescott could overhaul Michigan State’s Connor Cook and cement a spot as the No. 4 QB on the board ahead of April’s draft.
Cook has widely been regarded as the next best option behind Goff, Wentz and Lynch but it would be no surprise to see Prescott taken ahead of him.
Prescott enjoyed an excellent 2015 season, finishing with 3793 passing yards and 29 touchdowns with just five interceptions. He added 588 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground.
Having long since established himself as a running threat, Prescott has made considerable strides as a passer and in his mental development, going through progressions and using his eyes well to manipulate defenders.
A confident and decisive passer, Prescott can deliver with velocity when he steps into his throws and does so with accuracy on the short-to-intermediate passes.
Prescott does not have an elite arm strength but puts impressive touch on his deep passes, showing an ability to loft the ball over the heads of defenders and perfectly into the hands of his receivers.
What is perhaps most impressive about Prescott, though, and what should separate him from Cook, is how he deals with pressure. He is not consistently effective in sensing the rush off the edge but hangs tough in the pocket and does a good job of escaping pressure with his legs. Additionally, when hurried he can get enough on his passes to make completions throwing off his back foot.
On the ground Prescott has the strength to be a battering ram on goal-line and short-yardage situations but can also make big plays in space and is more than capable of throwing on the run.
By contrast Cook is only really a threat from short yardage and does not have the mobility to evade the rush with the same effectiveness as Prescott. Indeed, Cook does not appear to pick up pressure well and was completely overwhelmed by Alabama’s front seven in the Cotton Bowl, although the offensive line should take much of the blame for that performance.
Cook does possess many of the same positive traits as Prescott, he is an accurate passer who can zip the ball into tight windows and throws with touch and anticipation. However, Cook too often stares down his targets and forces balls into coverage while also demonstrating inconsistencies with his footwork, regularly throwing with his weight falling away from the target and losing accuracy as a result.
That is not to say Prescott is without his deficiencies. He has a tendency to pre-determine throws and, while he has generally proven himself to be quite accurate, could do a better job of leading his receivers to the sideline.
In many ways, he and Cook are similar prospects, but Prescott, with his added mobility, proficiency in dealing with pressure and upside as a dual-threat quarterback, is the one NFL teams should be putting higher up on their boards.
Prescott will still have to prove himself at the combine and, should he outshine Cook and impress in the interviews, his name figures to be the next one called once Goff, Wentz and Lynch are gone.