Tony Romo, while polarizing amongst many Dallas Cowboys watchers, is without a doubt one of the best quarterbacks we have had in the NFL over the last 10 years. For the Cowboys franchise, he rewrote the record books as a passer, and gave Dallas a fighting chance to win every time he stepped on the field.
His presence — which continues on in a sense as his locker stall at The Star In Frisco remains unoccupied (as a monument or as an emergency?) — could cast a shadow over Dak Prescott.
But this is Dak’s time. This is Dak’s team.
That’s become more evident in recent days. Read Fish’s Cowboys Premium piece here on Dak as “The Voice.’’ Or listen to him serve as the media go-to guy on the subject of Mother’s Day.
“Every day is Mother’s Day,” Prescott recently told a charity gathering, speaking on Peggy Prescott, who died of colon cancer during his sophomore year in college, just as he did in Sunday’s “E:60’’ feature on ESPN. “It’s just a part of me every day. That’s the lady who taught me life.’’
Prescott continues to learn life lessons and football lessons. The next step?
How will Dak perform in his sophomore campaign?
There is no longer a Romo-sized safety net in case of emergency behind Prescott. So how will he respond? Will he thrive in a united locker room and improved personnel? Or will he succumb to the dreaded sophomore slump?
It’s not unprecedented for players with successful rookie campaigns to follow up with not-so-impressive sophomore outings.
A lot of those notable players, (maybe due to the high profile nature of the position) have been quarterbacks. Let’s look at the evidence:
2007 Vince Young
Through three years at the University of Texas, Vince Young was arguably the most exciting player in college football. He threw for over 6,000 yards, ran for over 3,000, and was responsible for 81 total touchdowns as a Longhorn.
Entering the draft, Young was a hot commodity, and thought to be possibly the second coming of Randall Cunningham. He ended up being drafted third overall by the Tennessee Titans, and in his first season, was named Offensive Rookie of the Year, and was responsible for 2,751 total yards and 19 touchdowns.
In his second season though, Young’s career began to plummet, and since 2008, he never regained his rookie year magic.
2011 Sam Bradford
In 2010, Sam Bradford was the No. 1 overall pick. He had just come off of a stellar career at Oklahoma, and was one of the most highly-graded quarterbacks to enter the draft in quite some time.
He was known for his accuracy, level-headed play, intangibles, as well as a being a bit of an injury risk. At Oklahoma, he threw for 8,403 yards, 88 touchdowns, and just 16 interceptions. He also completed 67.6 percent of his passes and had a quarterback rating of 175. 6. In 2008, he won the Heisman Trophy after throwing for over 4,700 yards and 50 touchdowns.
As a rookie for the Rams, Bradford was great. He threw for 3,512 yards, 18 touchdowns, and completed 60 percent of his passes. All indications were, that he was going to be one of the next great quarterbacks on the NFL scene.
Unfortunately, 2011 wasn’t as kind to Bradford. He played in just 10 games, throwing for 2,164 yards, with six touchdowns and six picks. He also had a completion percentage of just 53.5-percent.
He bounced back in 2012, but following that season, his career has never quite recovered, and he has become more of a punchline than anything else. Even after a nice start to 2016 in Minnesota, Bradford is still to this day considered a lower-tier quarterback.
2013 Robert Griffin III
RG3 was a football god at Baylor. He, along with his controversial head coach Art Briles, changed the trajectory of Baylor sports as we know it. In 2011, Griffin became Baylor’s first ever Heisman winner after throwing for over 4,200 yards and 37 touchdowns, with just six picks.
In the 2012 Draft, Griffin was selected second overall behind Indianapolis Colts star Andrew Luck, and went on to win the 2012 AP Offensive Rookie of the Year award. He even led the Redskins to the playoffs, though they lost their opening-round matchup with the Seattle Seahawks.
In his second season, Griffin began to slip. Injuries became a serious issue, and his quarterback rating dropped over 20 points from 104.4, to just 82.2.
Griffin’s career has never recovered, mainly due to injuries and poor decision making, and he is now an unemployed afterthought.
Recovering from the Slump
It’s not always doom and gloom, however.
Matt Ryan, after a great rookie season, had a substantially less successful sophomore campaign, but since then has become one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks, most recently guiding the Atlanta Falcons to a Super Bowl appearance this past season.
In other cases, guys like Ben Roethlisberger, Kurt Warner, Russell Wilson, and some guy named Tom Brady, all won Super Bowls in their second year. Also, in at least three of those cases, those players turned out to be Hall-of-Fame-caliber quarterbacks.
So which path will Prescott’s career travel in Year 2? Prescott has a lot of things going for him that Bradford, Young, and Griffin never had in their NFL careers.
For starters, Prescott has an immensely talented offensive line. That being said, Ron Leary and and Doug Free are gone, so there are some unknowns their, but the core of the line (Travis Frederick, Zack Martin and Tyron Smith) is returning. La’el Collins will be back as well, in some capacity. There needn’t be too much of a drop off.
Prescott also has his buddy Ezekiel Elliott, one of the NFL’s best running backs, lining up behind him. And if things go as expected, Dallas will once again have one of the leagues most dominant rushing attacks.
Finally, Prescott has a plethora of reliable receiving targets to get the ball to. Jason Witten, Dez Bryant, Cole Beasley and Terrance Williams are all back, and rookie Ryan Switzer’s work at this weekend’s Rookie Minicamp has Cowboys officials etching his name in with the above group.
Still, the burden will fall upon Prescott to replicate his 2016 magic. No less an authority on QBs than Saints coach Sean Payton offered his two cents recently on ESPN Radio.
"I'm not even talking or discussing sophomore slumps," Payton told ESPN. "I'm looking at cutups and looking at improving and inserting some new thoughts and ideas. You shake his hand and you feel like he's a guy who's hard to get off his spot and that's going to serve him well throughout his career. I like the look in his eye. When the game starts and you're watching the game, you feel calm watching him play -- and that's a good trait because you trust him."
That calm comes from a place that Peggy Prescott helped him reach. It helps him look at every day as Mother’s Day … and maybe helps him be as good in his sophomore year as he was as a rookie.