American Football

As he turns 30, the Cowboys may get the best of Dak Prescott


NFC Divisional Playoffs - Dallas Cowboys v San Francisco 49ers
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30 is looked at as a scary age in the NFL, but there are reason to believe that may not be the case for Dak Prescott.

In the NFL we often hear about the dreaded age of 30 and how it is the beginning of the end for players. For years it has felt that the third decade of life was when players had reached their peak, and it is typically viewed as either a sharp decline or a slow, gradual fall back down to reality for athletes from that point on.

While it is not a perfect science and not easy to predict, historically many have experienced a decline in performance due to age-related factors such as decreased mobility, slower reaction times, and increased injury risk. Father Time is undefeated.

However, in today’s NFL where the quarterback is hit less frequently, and protected more than ever, some quarterbacks are now able to sustain, or even elevate, their level of play well into their 30s and in some cases into their 40s.

There are some reasons to believe that Dak Prescott could be one of those that sustains into his 30s, There is a real belief and data to back up the fact that the best may still be yet to come for Dak Prescott and his Cowboys future.

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Looking at the numbers, statistically speaking, there is no clear-cut rule for how a quarterback’s performance changes after turning 30, but there are some generally positive trends that can be observed when comparing a quarterback’s stats in their younger years versus after turning 30. For example, looking at completion percentages and the tendencies for quarterbacks to either maintain their level or even elevate as the game slows down for them mentally, and how they view the game from a much more clearer understanding with age and experience.

Dak’s completion percentage has never been lower than 62.9% in his career and that mark was in 2017 which was his second year in the league with his last three seasons finishing no worse than 68%. Now, the expectation shouldn’t be for him to start to be a consistent 70% guy either, but the floor seems to be set at mid-60s as a fair and reasonable benchmark for him to hover around, or even exceed. The idea that Dak is accurate and will remain so based on what we have seen and what we know about him shouldn’t be viewed as shocking or unobtainable.

Another encouraging metric to view is the touchdown to interception ratio. This metric can be viewed as something that stays consistent as a quarterback grows in age and in many cases for the same reasons as listed above, can get better with time, not worse. Understanding and acknowledging what happened last year when looking at Dak Prescott and his 2022 season is important. He led the league in interceptions with 15 in the regular season, and that’s understood as higher than usual and unacceptable, which makes it is easy to look and say his interception are a problem. However, last year’s woes were the exception and not the rule in his career with little to no statistical reason to believe that this is will be a concerning trend that will continue in 2023. Prior to 2022, Dak averaged 8.33 interceptions a season through his first six years, with the most prior to last season being 13 in 2017, which is one of his worst seasons.

Conversely, on the other side, when it comes to touchdowns Dak has never thrown for less than 22 touchdowns in a season that he played more than six games, with 30 and 37 being the total in his two last full seasons. On pure averages, taking out Dak’s outlier of interceptions in 2022 and his nine touchdowns in five games in 2020, Dak has a 26 touchdowns to eight interceptions ratio for his career resulting in more than a three-to-one touchdown to interception ratio.

Even if you added in his injury-riddled seasons, and overall worst season he’s had, he still is at a more than respectable 24 touchdowns to nine interceptions average. What the tape, and the stats tell us convincingly is that Dak has been very good with scoring and protecting the football throughout his career. That is the main objective of the QB position, and even as he hits the age of 30, there is no reason to believe that will change in a negative manner regardless of what 2022 looked like.

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Thirdly, when examining a quarterback’s body of work you may look to their quarterback rating or QBR for short, as a tool to let you know if their performance was acceptable or not. With the age and the factors discussed earlier, for Dak to be able to understand the game, be smart with the football, and continue to make smart decisions, a 30 year old seasoned QB like Dak Prescott can conceivably see an increase in their overall QBR as they grow in age, even if the physical ability declines a bit with time.

QBR is calculated on a scale from 0 to 100 with a 50 score meaning you’re playing at an average level. Dak Prescott’s worst QBR of his career came in 2021 where he posted a 54.6 rating and has throughout his career posted a QBR at or above a 70 in four of the seven seasons. What this tells us is that through every season of Dak’s career, he has played at an above average level with the majority being convincingly and definitively above that mark. Any way you cut it, Dak is an above average QB with consistent data to prove he is significantly more than just that, year after year.

All these statistics and metrics tell the story about Dak the player, but doesn’t really begin to tell the story about the roster and talent around him that has fluctuated in terms of ability and production over the years, with some seasons being better than others. With the 2023 season comes excitement that the Cowboys front office has begun doing enough to continue to elevate the play of Dak with the cast around him. The expectation is that Dak is expected to lift up the players around him due to salary or the nature of the position, but one could wonder just how good Dak can actually be if the team viewed it oppositely and decided to build a team around him with the goal to lift Dak to new heights. 2023 looks the the first true time the team has been able to show us that may be their plan of attack. Maybe it’s the age, maybe it’s the lack of winning, whatever it is, it’s a welcome sight for Dak and the fan base.

NFL: NFC Wild Card Round-Dallas Cowboys at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
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After all this, what we know based on the numbers and projecting forward is that there is zero reason to believe that Dak is going to hit the proverbial 30-year-old wall, but even more so than that, there are metrics, history, and encouragement to believe that his play will not only stay at a high level, but we may very well see his play go up another notch in 2023 and beyond. This is not to say Dak can’t regress, but the numbers back up the claim that it would be a slight surprise if so.

Dak could very well age like a fine wine and this is very good news for the current and future prospects of the Dallas Cowboys.

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