Just 17 games into his NFL career, Dak Prescott is already on the verge of making history.
Since taking over as the Dallas Cowboys’ starting quarterback at the beginning of last season, Prescott has thrown just four interceptions in 498 pass attempts, making him the most accurate young signal caller in the history of the league. The Mississippi State product needs just two more attempts to become the first player in NFL history with fewer than five picks in his first 500 throws.
There’s no doubt that Prescott has been terrific for Dallas, but his upcoming milestone might say as much about the ever-changing league as it does about him. In recent years, the NFL has only become more reliant on the passing game, and the emphasis on short, high-percentage passes has increased. The result is that a young, relatively polished quarterback like Prescott can ride a modern playbook to staggering accuracy numbers.
There are statistics that tell the story of this transformation. In 2006, NFL teams averaged around 512 pass attempts per season, but that number jumped to 544 in 2011 and 572 in 2016. This change helps account for the speed with which Prescott will reach 500 attempts.
League-wide completion percentage is also on the rise, moving from 59.8 per cent in 2006 to 60.1 per cent in 2011 to a shocking 63.0 per cent just last year. Interception figures have dropped accordingly, from 16 per team in 2006 to 13 per team in 2016. Head coaches tend to protect inexperienced quarterbacks from making mistakes by simplifying their playbook, and Cowboys play caller Jason Garrett was no exception last year.
There’s no doubt that there are other factors at play in Prescott’s ability to avoid throwing picks. He plays alongside Ezekiel Elliott and is protected by one of the foremost offensive lines in the league, so opposing defences typically have a lot to handle when the Cowboys come to town. What’s more, Prescott has always been an accurate passer, completing 66.2 per cent of his attempts during his senior year of college.
Still, the NFL’s changing norms are a big part of how Prescott has been able to avoid interceptions while throwing a high volume of passes against the best defenders in the world. Thanks to this perfect storm of conditions, we could be looking at the start of the most mistake-free career the league has ever seen.
Prescott will go for history this Sunday when the Cowboys visit the Denver Broncos. Kickoff is set for 4:25 p.m. ET.
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