Quarterback Dak Prescott was named the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2016 after leading the Cowboys to a 13-3 record — its best finish since 2007.
While Dallas largely relied on their run game, led by fellow rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott, Prescott surprised much of the league with his play as a fourth-round pick after Tony Romo suffered a back injury during the preseason. Prescott ended up completing 67.8 percent of his passes for 3,667 yards with 23 touchdowns and four interceptions — good for the league's No. 3 passer rating at 104.9.
Playing under head coach Dan Mullen at Mississippi State, Prescott said he feels scouts and NFL personnel men may have underestimated his throwing ability when he entered the draft.
"I think so in a way, particularly because of the system I was in," Prescott said, but pointed out in his "senior year, we threw it a lot more and I ran it a lot less — so I'm not going to let scouts get all the way clean on that one."
And it's true — as a junior in 2014, Prescott had 396 passing attempts and 210 carries, racking up 3,449 yards passing and 986 yards rushing. But the following year, Prescott had 477 passing attempts and 160 rushes, accumulating 3,793 yards through the air and 588 on the ground.
Prescott hasn't run half as much in the league — he had only 282 yards rushing last year — but he clearly knows how to use his legs effectively to make plays. Prescott had six rushing touchdowns in 2016, and scored one with an acrobatic flip in Monday's game against the Cardinals.
Still, most of the time when Prescott uses his legs, he's looking to throw. And the Cowboys' strong run game assists in the quarterback's ability. In the Cardinals' game, for instance, Prescott rolled to his right twice and to hit Brice Butler with a 37-yard touchdown pass and a 53-yard pass.
This week, Prescott said that's a skillset he's been developing for a while.
"That goes way back to [when I] was starting to play quarterback in high school, and just being the athlete I am, and using my ability and my feet to extend plays, and then to run past the line of scrimmage and make plays there as well," Prescott said. "Now in the NFL, it's just about being smart about using my feet, knowing when to [run] against certain coverages or when things break down, being able to use my feet to get out of pressure, to make plays down the field or just simply to run and to get a first down and avoid and make a play."
Playing for the Eagles last year, Rams outside linebacker Connor Barwin squared off against Prescott twice and came away impressed.
"In my experience last year, the quarterback is the real deal," Barwin said. "He can really do it all, can make the plays from outside the pocket, can make plays from inside the pocket and then can make plays with his feet. So, we will have to be at our best against him."
Check out photos of the Los Angeles Rams practicing before their game against the Dallas Cowboys.
"You have to be disruptive and you have to stay on him," Barwin added. "When you get pressure in the pocket, you have to make plays and keep him in the pocket. And then when he gets out of the pocket you have to have guys on him and you have to great in coverage at the back end."
Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips had high praise as well, in a way comparing Prescott's accomplishments to Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's first few NFL seasons.
"I mean he's going into the Roethlisberger plane of a quarterback that comes in and really plays well early," Phillips said. "It wasn't just him, obviously, but everybody knows the quarterback's a big, big part of it. Maybe the biggest in most situations and now they're 2-1 this year and he's really playing well.
"He doesn't throw interceptions, he makes big plays running the ball or scrambling and throwing it, so I don't see any flaws in him," Phillips continued. "You pressure him, they have a good line and that helps too, but you pressure him and he throws to the right people."
With Prescott and the multiple weapons on the Dallas offense, Phillips said the Rams will have to improve this week.
"You know, when you're playing a really good offensive team, that's when you have to step up and be a really good defensive team," Phillips said. "I think we'll get better in some of the areas that we need to, but we'll find out. That's why we play the game, to see what happens, but I like our group."
Kristen Lago contributed reporting.