Can Dak Prescott Carry The Dallas Cowboys Back To NFL Playoffs?

As the top running back and fourth overall selection in this June’s NFL Draft, Dallas Cowboys’ rookie Ezekiel Elliot has been watched, analyzed, and discussed as much as any member of ”America’s Team” through training camp and the first three weeks of the preseason.

But while Elliot has drawn the lion’s share of attention thus far, rookie quarterback Dak Prescott has become an instant fan-favorite with some impressive preseason efforts of his own. And now that starting quarterback Tony Romo is expected to miss significant time with a broken bone in his back, Prescott has been given the unexpected opportunity of a lifetime.

As if it were the plot of some sort of football fairy tale, Prescott’s recent rise to NFL relevancy has given the Cowboy-faithful legitimate hope for the future just one season after they were forced to watch their beloved team lose 11 of 12 games with its aging star signal-caller injured and stuck on the sidelines.

To be fair, it’s still only the preseason and the defenses that Prescott has faced haven’t spent the week watching film and preparing for the former Mississippi State star. But the 454 yards, five passing touchdowns, zero interceptions, two rushing touchdowns, and the fact that he’s completed 78 percent of his passes, are hard to ignore for a franchise that’s been plagued by an injury-prone starting quarterback.

On top of fracturing his vertebra in the third play of the Cowboys’ Week 3 preseason loss to the Seattle Seahawks and missing 12 games from fracturing his clavicle twice last season, Romo has also suffered a broken finger, broken collarbone, and undergone back surgery since 2008.

Despite Romo’s recent track record and the Cowboys’ collapse in 2015, executive vice president Stephen Jones refused to admit that neither the team’s upcoming campaign nor the veteran’s career is in jeopardy.

”He’s driven for this not to be like last year,” said Jones via ESPN. ”He’s certainly not deterred, and he really feels like it’s going to be different, but he can get through this, and he also feels very confident that our team can win football games without him while he’s not here. He’s driven to help Dak win football games for us so that when he gets back we have a great chance to have a great season, get in the tournament and contend for a championship. Nothing’s changed.”

Fortunately for Prescott, Dallas is fairly well-equipped to handle this exact situation much better than it did last season thanks to one of the game’s best offensive lines, a respected receiving corps led by Dez Bryant, veteran tight end Jason Witten, and a suddenly-deep backfield consisting of Darren McFadden, newcomer Alfred Morris, and the NFL’s most formidable rookie running back.

But replacing Romo’s on-field leadership and presence in the locker room won’t be easy for a team that’s now starting a pair of first-year pros at the two most important offensive positions. And with backup Kellen Moore sidelined with a broken ankle, Prescott really is the Cowboys’ only realistic option under center.

For what it’s worth, the Cowboys’ coaching staff is very confident in the overall quality of the offense, and head coach Jason Garrett had high praise for his young quarterback while addressing the issue on Saturday.

”He’s [Prescott] done a good job leading the unit, commanding the huddle and the line of scrimmage,” said Garrett via ESPN. ”He’s showed he’s a good decision-maker, and he’s made plays in and out of the pocket. He’s made plays on his own, moved the ball and helped us score points.”

Obviously, bouncing back from last season’s 4-12 finish won’t be any easier without Romo. But things could be a lot worse for the Cowboys, and if Prescott continues to play the way he has in the preseason, Dallas and its faithful fan-base will have a lot to look forward to in the future.

[Photo By Ronald Martinez/Getty Images]