Igono performs an excellent assessment of the Mississippi St. QB.
The proliferation of read-option offenses has allowed for more college quarterbacks to put up strong numbers and wins. Dak Prescott is a solid college quarterback that has led Mississippi State to uncharted waters as a football program. However the baseline skills needed at the next level are not consistently shown in his game.
Prescott is worryingly inaccurate on the majority of all his throws. He can only execute passes downfield when his receivers win at the point of attack consistently. He also struggles processing information quickly and making sound decisions in the pocket. The unifying theme with Prescott’s developmental arc is tied directly to his ball placement maladies.
Dak Prescott has trouble completing all types of passes. In my film study, the root of his inaccuracy is not mechanical. There are no glaring technical flaws in his delivery, footwork or arm strength. His issues are almost strictly conceptual. He demonstrates a limited understanding of ball placement and struggles anticipating passing windows. Let’s take a closer look at some of his passes in different contexts; short, intermediate and deep throws.
In the clip above, the receiver runs a slant route from the field side. The corner from is in an off coverage, most likely a Cover 3 (deep third of the field). Prescott’s pass is behind the intended receiver, disrupting his forward momentum and forcing the receiver to pivot to try to get extra yards. If Prescott would have delivered the ball in front I’m willing to bet the receiver would have gotten at least a first down with only the one high safety to beat.
Proper ball placement is not only crucial to completing passes but it keeps an offense on schedule. This next clip illustrates the consequences of getting off schedule.
At first glance, this errant pass looks mostly harmless. After breaking down this particular play multiple times, the warning signs become more obvious. Yes, Prescott is under virtually instant pressure. However, this is a screen. The pressure is expected and honestly, it’s perfect for the proper execution of the pass. The running back has a convoy of offensive linemen leading the way for him if the pass is on-target, but Prescott’s throw is high and behind the target.
Prescott doesn’t lead his running back into free space. Even if this pass is completed a defensive lineman who peeled off the rush would have tackled the back for a minimal gain. Now its 3rd and 4 after narrowly escaping a turnover. Here is the ensuing play:
Was that a bad pass? I wouldn’t say so. The fact of the matter is that because he didn’t capitalize on the pass before third down, they have to punt. It’s a missed opportunity that set the tone for the rest of that game.
Missing short throws is not good. Those throws are usually an extension of the running game and force the defense to be honest. Missing on intermediate throws strangles your offense. It forces a quarterback to persist on a diet of short throws and deep shots. It’s in this area of the field Prescott’s conceptual limitations become obvious.
The receiver is running a go route. Any go route can instantly switch to a back shoulder fade provided the receiver and the quarterback are on the same page. The quarterback has to put the ball in a place (receiver’s back shoulder) where only his guy can get it. The receiver needs to adjust accordingly and shield the cornerback from the pass.
Prescott put this pass in a bad spot and was fortunate the target wasn’t intercepted. The ball is placed on the forward (front) shoulder, forcing the receiver to turn into the defensive back. The target should have either been thrown as a standard go (nine) route or to receiver’s sideline (back) shoulder for a big chunk of yards and a first down.
Prescott often throws to an area, regardless of coverage or his intended receiver. Take this next play for example:
The trailing defensive back intercepts this pass and it illustrates Prescott’s lack of anticipation. Knowing when to throw to an open receiver isn’t the only criteria for good anticipation. It’s also the ability to “throw” a target open. If this pass would have been thrown accurately ahead of the receiver, it likely would have been a touchdown. The defensive back was beaten but an ill-placed pass allowed him to make the play. The next clip is similar in the sense that Prescott throws to an area that is behind the receiver. If he leads the receiver to the back of the end zone the end product could have been very different:
Prescott regularly shows a propensity to throw to where the receiver is instead of where he’s going. I’m not sure he has a firm grasp of understanding of coverages and where to go with the football. He does a solid job of understanding defensive fronts, but Prescott can be exposed when his receivers aren’t where he expects them to be. This difficulty with coverage tests his ability to throw an accurate pass.
This is a bad throw on many levels. It seems like there was some miscommunication on the route concept. That being said the throw could have potentially been picked off by the underneath corner as well. The only scenario that this pass should leave Prescott’s hands is if he can drop it between the corner and safety. That means that the pass has to be virtually on the sideline, not between the hash and the numbers like it was.
Because Prescott struggles to complete passes in the intermediate zones, his deep game also suffers. Prescott excels at driving his passes. Unfortunately he doesn’t couple that with the vision to place his passes in a spot where his receivers can take advantage. In this next exposure, observe where the receiver is and where Prescott places the pass.
This is a garden variety busted coverage. Georgia Tech essentially turns the receiver free in the deep middle of the field. Instead of throwing the ball more to the hash and numbers, where the wideout is going, Prescott fires a pass down the hash where the receiver was initially heading. The end zone view of the pass is even more telling.
Even if the receiver was instructed to keep his post skinny this pass would have been incomplete. If a quarterback can’t hit wide open receivers in stride down the field in this situation not too many situations at the next level will point to him being able to do this consistently going forward.
Ball placement becomes paramount on deep passes, because it heightens the risk-reward nature of the pass attempt. In the next example, note where the ball is placed and how the defender is able to make a play on it.
This pass has to be closer to the sideline for two reasons. First, it protects possession of the ball. Any pass closer to the numbers, like this pass, is easier to intercept. Second, if this pass were thrown closer to the sideline the wideout actually has a better shot at catching it. If the pass is on the sideline the corner has a smaller window to get his hands on the pass without interfering.
Prescott wins in the passing game when his receivers win at the point of attack. His inaccuracy is so prevalent it forces his receivers to make plays or the offense stagnates.
The ironic thing about this pass is that it shows the caliber of Prescott’s arm and the he has confidence in his athletic ability even though the throw is sub par. In this instance, the running back makes a ridiculous one-handed grab to garner a huge chunk of yards and avoid another possible turnover.
Prescott can win downfield if his receivers outplay the defenders. Here’s a player where the receiver does a great job beating the corner and Prescott makes a solid throw, keeping the safety at bay and protecting his wideout.
If given a receiver group that attack the ball and create mismatches for a defense, Prescott can make a defense suffer. Watch how the wideout beats man coverage in the clip below, setting up an easy completion.
Give Prescott a big receiver with large catch radius and he can do things like this:
If he was more consistent with his ball placement, Prescott would flourish with an alpha receiver like Brandon Marshall, Calvin Johnson or even Steve Smith, Sr.
Right now, Prescott struggles making sound decisions and processing information quickly. I believe that making sound decisions comes down to the difference between responding and reacting to pressure. Good quarterback play responds to pressure mostly by utilizing check-downs, throw-aways, or scrambling to either extend a play or protect the possession. Bad quarterback play reacts to pressure, usually by freezing in the face of pressure, overreacting to compensate for being off rhythm or avoiding contact solely out of fear.
Prescott mostly exhibits bad quarterback play in the face of pressure. He appears very robotic and at times seems to freeze.
Prescott goes through his progressions and decides to leave the pocket prematurely. His line had the LSU front blocked. Once he leaves the pocket the defense converges on him and he decides to throw a pass across his body. He doesn’t account for the underneath corner who tees off on his wide-out.
In this scenario, Prescott compounds a bad situation by being careless with the football. He should have just opted to run for the yardage or throw the ball away.
Prescott is a rugged runner who punishes defenses once he gets moving downhill, but he doesn’t have great footwork or agility, especially in the pocket.
In the face of pressure, Prescott attempts to beat contain around the edge and he is sacked. Sometimes you have to take a sack, but in this instance his first steps should have been up, not out. By sliding to his right, he cuts down his field of vision and it makes this encounter strictly athletic. Seasoned quarterbacks do their best to stay in the middle of the field to force a defense to tip their hand.
Managing pressure is of the utmost importance. In the clip below, I see a quarterback who is not comfortable in the pocket.
Again, this is probably a sack any way you slice it. Prescott is more likely to spill out of the pocket than avoid pressure in the pocket. There’s pressure coming from both edges and he has to decide quickly what his plan is. His footwork illustrates a panicked plan that relies solely on his legs. At the next level quarterbacks who can’t punish a defense from the pocket are found out. Prescott’s eyes are focused solely on the rush.
He hasn’t shown the ability to make plays outside of the structure of the play, especially with his arm. His pocket presence leaves a lot to be desired.
In this era of college football many quarterbacks put up enticing stats and completion percentages. Dak Prescott is a decorated college quarterback whose skills don’t directly translate to a smooth transition to the NFL.
Prescott is inaccurate, regularly throwing passes where his receivers are, not where they are going. He can only consistently win downfield if his receivers win at the point of attack, relying on their athleticism and savvy. Prescott struggles processing information and making sound decisions under pressure.
It could be argued that Dak Prescott has the pedigree and skill set required to be a developmental prospect as a quarterback. The reality is that his future as a quarterback at the next rises or falls based on his accuracy. When you group that realization with the other aspects of his game that need refinement, it’s fair to say any chance taken on Prescott would be at best a gamble.
David Igono is a former defensive back who played at West Virginia University and a couple of seasons of arena football. A longtime draft anorak, he considers the 2014 RSP the inspiration for taking the process more intentionally. Follow him at @d1gono.