With the NFL Draft and free agency having come and gone, we’ll break down all sorts of fantasy-relevant questions entering the 2018 season. Up next is a look at the underrated value of the third-year starting quarterback for America’s team.
Dak Prescott Adds Massive Value as a Runner
The NFL’s gradual embrace of spread principles has helped open up offenses to dual-threat quarterbacks who may have otherwise been asked to play a different position in past eras. Adding a rushing workload to a quarterback’s plate has made for some fantasy-friendly signal callers in recent years, and a consistent red-zone rushing role is an attribute only a few quarterbacks possess.
Enter Dak Prescott, one of the league’s premiere rushing talents under center since entering the league in 2016. Prescott leads all quarterbacks with 12 rushing touchdowns over that span, and he joins Marcus Mariota, Blake Bortles, Russell Wilson, Tyrod Taylor, and Cam Newton as the only quarterbacks with more than 500 rushing yards. His average of 5.61 yards per rush is the fourth-highest mark among 24 quarterbacks with 50 or more rushing attempts.
Prescott also joins Newton and Taylor as the only quarterbacks with at least eight rushing attempts inside the 10-yard line during each of the past two seasons. While he’s not quite in the same discussion as Newton, Prescott has demonstrated touchdown-scoring ability on the ground that places him in select company through two seasons.
Most rushing TDs by a QB in the first two seasons of their career (last 25 years):
1. Cam – 22
T2. Dak – 12 👀
T2. Tebow – 12
4. Vince – 10
5. Luck – 9 pic.twitter.com/PH0aRlCaxr
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) April 2, 2018
Ezekiel Elliott is Key
Prescott has posted almost identical rushing splits with and without Ezekiel Elliott in the lineup over the past two seasons — except when it comes to touchdowns. It’s not particularly surprising the Cowboys have struggled to win games or score as efficiently without the lynchpin of their trademark physical rushing attack, but Prescott’s inability to pick up the slack in the passing game is alarming compared to what Tony Romo managed without DeMarco Murray:
Cowboys with and without DeMarco Murray 2011-2014:
W/L: 31-22 / 5-6
PPG: 26.5 / 22.5
Total yards: 374 / 343
Pass: 258 / 270
Rush: 116 / 72
Cowboys with and without Zeke 2016-2017:
W/L: 19-6 / 3-4
PPG: 26.1 / 17.6
Total yards: 375 / 280
Pass: 224 / 166
Rush: 151 / 114
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) May 28, 2018
Per our NFL Trends tool, Prescott has averaged 19.8 DraftKings points per game, a +2.2 Plus/Minus, and a 72% Consistency Rating (the percentage of games in which a player has reached his salary-based expectation) with Elliott compared to 12.3 points per game, a -6.1 Plus/Minus, and a 14% Consistency Rating without Elliott.
The Cowboys’ lack of consistent receiving options along with all-world left tackle Tyron Smith‘s recurring back issues played a large role in the offense’s general struggle to move the football without Elliott. Still, the Cowboys essentially turn from a bottom-five scoring offense without Elliott to a top-five unit with him. Prescott’s average yards per attempt without Elliott is a lackluster 6.5, but it increases to a stellar 7.8 with him. Ultimately, Prescott has consistently lead a high-scoring attack and played winning football when his all-world starting running back is on the field.
The Departures of Dez and Witten Could Be a Blessing in Disguise
Assuming Elliott continues to live his life in a manner befit of Roger Goodell’s ever-evolving principles, the Cowboys appear poised to enter the 2018 season with their fully-functional starting offense. Elliott will continue to be the star of the show, although there is plenty of open opportunity in an offense that needs to replace 219 targets from the departed Dez Bryant and Jason Witten.
Defenses will dare Prescott to beat them with his arm from the pocket, but it may be a bit harder for them to load the box in 2018. The departure of the notoriously slow-footed, 36-year old Witten could open up additional snaps for ex-Baylor basketball player and preseason superstar Rico Gathers, and Prescott has posted a worse adjusted yards per attempt rate when targeting Bryant than any other receiver he’s targeted at least 50 times in his career.
The lack of a true No. 1 option won’t help the Cowboys in critical situations once defenses know their offensive tendencies, but thanks to the ability of Prescott, Elliott, and the offensive line, the Cowboys figure to boast at least an above-average offense when fully healthy.
Chris Raybon’s analysis on how to use sports betting data to gain an edge in fantasy football revealed an interesting revelation in regards to Prescott’s standing in Vegas vs. the fantasy industry:
Five quarterbacks as of writing have +1800 (5.3%) odds of winning the MVP — Cam Newton, Kirk Cousins, Matt Ryan, Philip Rivers, and Dak Prescott — but despite their identical odds they’re going as high as QB6 (Cousins) and low as QB17 (Prescott) in Fantasy Football Calculator’s point-per-reception (PPR) ADP.
Prescott finished as the fantasy QB6 in 2016 and QB10 in 2017. His limitations as a quarterback without Elliott have been made abundantly clear, but what quarterback isn’t at least somewhat limited without their offense’s best skill-position player? The Cowboys have scored at least 24 points in 18 of their 25 games with Elliott, and fantasy players should continue to invest in Prescott’s fantasy-friendly skill set as long as his most important teammates remain healthy.
You can use our tools to research more player- or team-specific questions for yourself, and be sure to check out The Action Network for more in-depth NFL analysis.
Pictured: Dak Prescott
Photo Credit: Kirby Lee – USA TODAY Sports