Play-Calling Locks Dak Prescott into Another Top-10 Season

Jul 08, 2024
Play-Calling Locks Dak Prescott into Another Top-10 Fantasy Football Season

The Dallas Cowboys narrowly missed out on having their second-ever MVP recipient, with Dak Prescott looking to represent the team for the first time since Emmitt Smith in 1993. Things were moving in that direction until a Week 14 offensive collapse, during which the Bills defense kept their opponent out of the end zone until deep in the fourth quarter. Prescott finished the game with 134 yards passing and 6.1 fantasy points, effectively knocking him out of the race while eliminating many playoff fantasy managers who opted to start him.

It was a dark blemish on what was otherwise a good year, but can we expect another season-long performance at that level, or are we looking at a repeat of the 2022 season when he led the position with a 3.8% interception rate?

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Dak Prescott’s 2023 Season

When a non-rushing quarterback finishes in the top 5 at the position in per-game scoring (20.2 points/gm), we know we’ve got something special on our hands. This was the fourth time Prescott has finished in the top 10 at the position, including the 2019 season when he finished as the QB3 in PPG, nearly eclipsing 5,000 yards in the process. The 2023 outcome was based more on his ability to find the end zone, with an efficient 6.1% touchdown rate, thanks mainly to his league-leading 52 pass attempts from within the opponent’s 10-yard line.

It’s worth questioning exactly what the boost in goal-line passing rate can be attributed to. While Prescott’s 3.06 pass attempts per game from the “green zone” were much higher than both 2022 (2.25) and 2021 (2.19), it’s possible that new OC Brian Schottenheimer preferred to keep things in the air with a middling running back room. Though the team finished with the ninth-most rush attempts (28) from within the five-yard line, they converted only seven of those attempts into a touchdown, the second-lowest TD rate in the league (25%).

The Cowboys’ perception of Ezekiel Elliott's current performance will undoubtedly impact whether or not they return to a higher rushing rate, but Prescott has other avenues to cash in fantasy terms.

Dak Prescott Rate Stats, 2023
EPA (Rank) ANY/A (Rank) CPOE (Rank) TD% (Rank) TWP%* (Rank)
72.53 (2nd) 7.28 (5th) 4.5% (2nd) 6.1% (3rd) 2.5% (14th)

*Turnover-worthy play rate, PFF

Prescott performed as a top-level quarterback option while dealing with an injury-riddled offensive line, the aforementioned middling RB room (44.5% success rate on gap runs - 22nd), and a thin wide receiver depth chart behind CeeDee Lamb. Not much has changed entering this season, but there is now a precedent that the QB can make chicken soup out of scraps.

The Cowboys Offense in 2024

The two “major” moving pieces in the Cowboys' skill position group are Elliott's re-addition and Michael Gallup's loss through free agency. So, not a lot.

Elliott will presumably slot directly into the RB1 role on this offense, with incumbent Rico Dowdle and diminutive Deuce Vaughn attempting to command touches behind the former great. While Elliott continued his inefficient rushing (2.54 yards created, 48th/59 qualifiers) in an awful Patriots offense last season, he did command 61 targets and should re-emerge as a check-down option in ‘24. You’d have to squint to find how Elliott/Dowdle/Vaughn could possibly raise the ceiling on the offense as a whole, but it’s not out of the question that they can match Tony Pollard’s production in what was a let-down campaign.

Hopefully, that won’t be too much of an issue, with Schottenheimer calling one of the most fantasy-friendly offenses in the league during his first season as OC. The Cowboys ran the fifth-quickest offense (26.2 seconds/snap) and had the seventh-highest pass rate (60.4%) during neutral-game situations in 2023. That quick pace-of-play is clearly something Prescott is comfortable with, as the team had the second-fastest seconds/snap over the previous four seasons (2019-2022), never finishing below the sixth-fastest team in any one year.

A fast-paced, pass-heavy offense should insulate Prescott’s fantasy aspirations, even if the run game behind him does a below-average job of helping him matriculate the ball down the field. It certainly doesn’t hurt that he may have the best wide receiver in the league on his team.

Projecting the Passing Offense’s Fantasy Value

CeeDee Lamb led the world in targets last season (181), and with how productive he was with those opportunities, why wouldn’t he have? Among the 35 receivers with 100+ targets, Lamb ranked seventh in on-target catch rate (92.5%), fifth in yards per route run (2.9), third in first-read targets (145), and third in fantasy points per route run (0.67). Regardless of how the depth chart shapes up behind him, he should be considered a top option at the position and a real consideration as the overall 1.01.

As for the rest of that depth chart, things get dicey quickly. Brandin Cooks is heading into his age-31 season, and while he re-earned his role as a field-stretching defensive menace (13.5 average depth of target), he hasn’t cracked 1,000 yards receiving since 2021 (1,037 on 130 targets). He was then the Texans de facto WR1 on a team with rookie Nico Collins, Danny Amendola, Chris Conley, and Chris Moore. At this point in his career, he’s better earmarked as a team’s WR3, which could inevitably open the door for tight end Jake Ferguson to cement his role as Prescott’s No. 2 option.

Cooks should be treated as a boom-or-bust best ball option, while Ferguson has locked-in TE1 appeal. Of the 52 “green zone” pass attempts we touched on earlier, 12 of them went to the tight end, though only three of them resulted in a touchdown. While Ferguson doesn’t have a plausible road to lead his team in targets, ala Travis Kelce, Mark Andrews, Dalton Kincaid, etc., some positive touchdown variance could vault him into an unexpected top-five finish at the position.

Jalen Tolbert —who could eventually usurp Brandin Cooks—, KaVontae Turpin, and rookie Ryan Flournoy aren’t the depth pieces we would hope for when looking for our fantasy quarterback, but Prescott has shown he can offer plenty of upside weeks with similar talent over his career. The new names along the offensive line also don’t instill the confidence that we’ve grown accustomed to. Still, the on-paper star power that unit has historically provided has also faced injury concerns more often than not.

There are undoubtedly questions about the Dallas Cowboys offense heading into 2024, but Prescott has proven that he belongs in the same breath as other (C.J. Stroud, Joe Burrow, Brock Purdy) “non-mobile” fantasy QB options.

Bottom Line

  • Dak Prescott nearly took home the second MVP award in Dallas Cowboys history before a mini-collapse cost many fantasy managers a spot in the playoffs.
  • Despite a departure from early-career rushing success (18 rushing scores from 2016-2018), Prescott has proven he is an annual top-10 option.
  • A moderate amount of skill position turnover shouldn’t impact the quarterback’s bottom line as long as CeeDee Lamb continues his elite play.
  • According to current Underdog ADP, Prescott is coming off of draft boards as the QB9 (96.5), having dropped a full round since the beginning of May. Whether that is a reaction to the Cowboys' refrain from adding an impactful rookie RB/WR or just natural fluctuation could be debated. Regardless, he is an excellent target at the end of the eighth round and has plenty of wiggle room as a target when he inevitably starts going much earlier in typical home leagues.
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