PFN Roundtable: Impact of Dallas Cowboys QB Dak Prescott’s injury absence

What impact will Dak Prescott's injury have on the Dallas Cowboys from a competitive standpoint, fantasy, betting, and the 2023 NFL Draft?

The Dallas Cowboys added injury to insult during their season-opening loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday, as quarterback Dak Prescott is set to miss several weeks after suffering a throwing hand injury that will require surgery.

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones told reporters after the 19-3 loss that Prescott will miss a significant amount of time. According to ESPN’s Todd Archer, Prescott’s timetable is expected to be around 6-8 weeks, so the Cowboys are likely to place him on injured reserve this week.

How does Dak Prescott’s injury impact the Dallas Cowboys offense?

Prescott suffered the injury in the fourth quarter when Buccaneers pass rusher Shaquil Barrett slapped the quarterback’s hand during a followthrough on a throw. He will now undergo surgery to fix a joint above his thumb. Following the injury, Prescott was immediately replaced by longtime backup Cooper Rush.

It’s worth noting that before the thumb injury, Prescott struggled mightily. He completed just 14 of 29 passes for 134 yards and an interception. The Cowboys’ offense scored just once and never reached the end zone under Prescott’s guidance.

Dallas has dealt with several notable injuries over the past few weeks, and Prescott’s ailment is obviously the most notable. But the offensive line is a work in progress, and the wideout group is in shambles. With Prescott out of the lineup, things are likely to get even worse.

CeeDee Lamb, Ezekiel Elliott, and Tony Pollard will need to pick up the slack around Rush, Will Grier, or whoever else the Cowboys might eye on the trade market or in free agency. The Cowboys’ offense looked bad with Prescott, but it could be in for an even worse stretch with whoever replaces him. — Mike Kaye, PFN Lead NFL Reporter

How Prescott’s absence could impact fantasy football

Nothing is worse than needing to “break glass in case of emergency” in Week 1. Unfortunately, that is the case we now face with Prescott needing surgery on his thumb.

While Rush will do his best, every single fantasy football asset on the Cowboys we rely on instantly has decreased in value and upside. We’ve seen this before, unfortunately, but the circumstances are a bit different.

In 2020, Dallas had an awful defense which forced Prescott to play at an MVP level and pace. From the first four weeks, Amari Cooper was the WR1, averaging 21.3 PPR/game. Lamb was up to WR16 (16.3 PPR) with Michael Gallup at WR33 (11.6). But for the rest of the season, Cooper saw a 37% drop in weekly scoring, with Lamb dropping 27% and Gallup 10%.

I don’t feel the impact will be quite as awful as Dallas doesn’t have the same number of mouths to feed. Of those three, Lamb is the only one active at the moment, so there is some target funneling occurring. He led the team with 11 against the Bucs on Sunday night.

The quality of those targets will drop, which should come as no surprise. Rush is nowhere near the QB of Prescott, so don’t expect to see Lamb in the WR1 range until Prescott returns. Assuming the Cowboys’ offensive line can keep him upright, Rush should still get his fair share. In Rush’s fill-in game last year against the Rams, Lamb caught six passes for 112 yards.

The player I am watching is Dalton Schultz. A 100-target candidate, Schultz led the team with seven receptions Sunday night, which was 33% of the team total. Given how bleak TE is this year, Schultz needs to be the mid-round value he was drafted to be. As a reliable, over-the-middle target, Schultz might walk away the least impacted by Prescott’s injury.

I do expect to see more reliance on the running game, utilizing both Elliott and Pollard to take some of the weight off Rush’s shoulders. But with stacked boxes plus a wafer-thin OL depth chart, it might be a neutral move if they struggle for efficiency. — Tommy Garrett, PFN Senior Fantasy Analyst

How does Prescott’s absence impact the Cowboys’ betting odds?

A very tough schedule and the ascending Philadelphia Eagles led us in late August to advise betting against the favored Cowboys to win the NFC East. An overworked Elliott and diminished offensive line didn’t help matters. Instead, Philadelphia was our pick to take the divisional crown, despite their worse odds.

While injuries such as Prescott’s can never be predicted, the team’s lack of QB depth exacerbates an already tenuous situation for a franchise that won’t have their star quarterback for critically important games against the Bengals, Rams, and Eagles. A realistic best-case scenario would have him return in time to face Green Bay on the road — not an ideal first game back.

The loss of Prescott for nearly half a season would mark a huge statistical setback for Lamb and meaningful setbacks for secondary receivers like Schultz and the returning Gallup. Meanwhile, more negative game scripts would hamper Elliott and Pollard, with Elliott needing much more receiving-game work to justify any remotely bullish sentiments.

Dallas is now officially a long shot to win their division. They’ll be fortunate to enter the Packers contest at 4-4 and then will need to virtually run the table against Green Bay, Minnesota, Indianapolis, etc. to reach 11 or even 12 wins. While it’s doable, there’s little room for error. And in a very competitive NFC, a dip to 10 wins might keep them from the postseason. — BJ Rudell, PFN Betting Director

How does Prescott’s injury impact Dallas’ 2023 NFL Draft plans?

I’ll stop you before you get going with, “It’s time to move on from Dak.” Prescott is a very good NFL quarterback when healthy and has the talent to lead the Cowboys to meaningful victories. He’s also under contract until 2025, so on the surface, there isn’t much of an NFL draft impact with Prescott’s injury.

That said, looking at the depth chart behind Prescott, there is a case to be made that Dallas could use draft capital to upgrade their backup QB situation. Right now, the next man up is Rush, an experienced but very uninspiring option, who won’t keep the Cowboys competitive.

By its nature, the backup quarterback won’t always keep the team competitive the way a starter would, but Dallas could stand to draft a mid-round QB next year and develop them into a reliable safety blanket. Thus, they can avoid or at least limit this precariousness in the future.

So, which QBs qualify for the 2023 NFL Draft? The board is still far from settled, but if you’re looking for mobility and toughness — two traits that define quality backups — a few names that stand out are Jake Haener, Hendon Hooker, and Spencer Sanders. Haener is the most accurate of the three. Hooker has the best size-athleticism combination, while Sanders has the off-script ability, running prowess, and arm talent to be the best buy-low value if he can kick his volatility long term. — Ian Cummings, PFN NFL Draft Analyst

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