Tim Tebow is a known failure of the NFL drafting and development process. The Heisman-winning, national champion quarterback with a fullback's body and a heart of gold never became a consistent passing threat, and at least part of his failed career can be chalked up to impatience due to his legendary college career.
What if a team could take a second crack at the Tebow experiment? Find an athletic player, a leader, but a flawed passer who needs to shape up his decision-making and his throwing mechanics, and draft him with an eye toward the future. He also doesn't carry the stigma of being one of the most famous college football icons in history. Could that passer succeed in the NFL? Or are the flaws we saw with Tebow too significant to win with?
Meet Dak Prescott, quarterback, Mississippi State.
Prescott is widely known as a confident, driven, humble leader. He often inspires glowing media reports, like this profile from July 2014. He won the national Senior CLASS award in 2015, an award that celebrates student-athletes making a positive impact in their community. (Tebow won the award in 2009.) He has an undergraduate degree in educational psychology, and a master in workforce leadership.
Prescott plays to honor his mother, Peggy. She died in 2013 of colon cancer.
Last year, Prescott and two of his teammates were assaulted during their spring break. The attack was random, and Prescott didn't fight back, suffering some lacerations while defending himself.
Prescott has widely been considered the consummate leadership guy in this draft class. So it was surprising (and concerning) when Prescott was arrested for a DUI in March, the night after running a football camp for 200 Mississippi kids. That's a very concerning knock on his personal character, and should have teams digging further into his background to make sure it won't become a habit. For what it's worth, Prescott is still scheduled to visit the Bills today, in spite of the arrest.
Prescott is often compared to Tebow, both on and off the football field. It makes sense; Prescott's head coach, Dan Mullen, was Tebow's offensive coordinator at Florida. Tebow stood 6'3" and weighed 235 pounds, while Prescott measures in at 6'2", 230. He's an above-average athlete for a quarterback, capable of powering the run game as a fullback, and he has a solid arm with good arm strength.
Here's one clip of Prescott's ability to run the ball. He has good patience to follow a lead blocker, enough speed to pick up a chunk of yardage in the open field, and no fear of lowering his shoulder to try and break a tackle.
Mechanics and accuracy
Prescott has a bad sense of ball placement right now when he throws. He usually places the ball near enough to his receiver, but they often have to jump, turn around, or otherwise adjust their route to catch the pass. It's not as noticeable at first, because he had the 6'5" DeRunnya Wilson to catch passes from him, but if you watch enough tape, you start noticing the trend. Here's one example from a game against Texas A&M:
Prescott has a great set of play-fakes and pump-fakes in his game. You can chalk up the former to his running experience, but he's also good in general with using small pumps to slow up defenders, and full arm movements to reset his decision-making when a play isn't available.
Overall, Prescott's throwing has a lot of mechanical issues. You can see as much from the final game of Prescott's career, against North Carolina State. Watch this pass, and notice the stutter step that causes Prescott's pass to lose velocity.
Prescott has inconsistent footwork. He "hops" when he throws sometimes, and doesn't have a consistent platform that he throws from. This causes him to burst his passes around the receiver. When he does it right, he's on-target, but it's very rare that Prescott has everything in sync.
Prescott is moderately practiced in the basic concepts needed to operate an NFL offense. He reads through progressions, and is capable of looking off the safety to isolate coverage, like in this play against Texas A&M.
The thing I take issue with is that Prescott will go through progressions, but doesn't always seem to have the "big picture" in mind when making throws. Of the quarterbacks Buffalo is interested in, I like Prescott's decision-making the least, because he exposes his teammates to big hits far more than the other guys. There's just something about the combination of Prescott's ball placement, and the way he decides his throws, that lead to a handful of plays each game where his receivers are leveled by a defender. Sometimes he lofts up a touch pass that takes too long to arrive, sometimes he stares down the target, sometimes the ball is thrown to the wrong shoulder, and sometimes he just puts a lot of faith in his receiver to hold onto the ball when two defenders are closing fast. Either way, it's not the type of risky play I would endorse.
Prescott is capable of standing in the pocket, gritting his teeth, and throwing a pass when a free defender is bearing down on him. If the pressure isn't immediately in his face, however, Prescott doesn't navigate the pocket cleanly, and he'll make the decision to abandon the pocket when he doesn't need to. Here are two examples against North Carolina State.
Prescott isn't comfortable stepping up in the pocket, or taking small steps to improve his positioning relative to the linemen around him. He also tends to improvise and abandon the structure of the play once he's left the pocket, leaving his original check-down option (the running back to the left) standing there.
Here's another example of Prescott's pocket issues; once he's flushed from his initial spot, he doesn't keep his shoulders pointed downfield. Bailing from the pocket, he carries the ball like a loaf of bread, and throws across his body without generating power, allowing the pass to be defended.
Prescott fits very strongly into the "project" category of quarterbacks. I really liked him when he was a junior, but I don't feel like he progressed enough as a senior to flash all of the NFL traits I want to see. He needs to improve his accuracy and field reading, or else he's going to cause Marquise Goodwin to retire for real if he ever has to throw the ball.
His reputation for a strong work ethic suggests he could improve his game, and while his throwing motion isn't the total disaster that Tebow's was, I have the feeling that Prescott's career probably won't outshine the former Gator's.