The Dallas Cowboys need quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott to be good in their second NFL seasons in many ways.
Elliott, who won a motion for a temporary restraining order against the NFL’s six-game suspension for violating the league’s personal conduct policy, led the NFL in rushing as a rookie 1,631 yards.
Prescott will be watched and measured closely as the undisputed starter heading into the season this time around.
Let’s take a historical look.
Since Earl Campbell bettered a spectacular rookie year with a better second season in 1979, about half of the top 10 rookie performances in NFL history saw a marked increased in production in the second season.
Of those, two players (Mike Anderson and George Rogers) had injury-shortened seasons.
Adrian Peterson had perhaps the most dramatic increase. As a rookie, he logged 1,341 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2007. In his second year, he went for 1,760 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Eric Dickerson ran for 2,105 yards and 14 touchdowns in his second season with the Los Angeles Rams after an NFL rookie record of 1,808 yards and 18 touchdowns.
Of the top five running backs, the increase in positive yardage was 15.7 percent on average, and four of the teams with those top five returned to the playoffs.
Elliott averaged 108.7 yards a game last season.
Prescott threw 23 touchdowns with four interceptions.
“I’m not sure there is a such a thing as a second-year slump,” Dallas Cowboys offensive lineman Travis Fredrick said. “I think every player works differently, and Dak works as hard as anyone else, and continues to improve.”
Of the top 10 second-year quarterback performances since 1983, virtually none of their statistical categories saw a significant decrease in Year No. 2, and only three teams with those quarterbacks saw a decrease in the win column.
Prescott completed 311 passes for 3,667 yards and 23 touchdowns.
His 67.8 percent completion rate is tops among rookie quarterbacks going back to Miami’s Dan Marino in 1983.
While most of a prominent rookie quarterback’s stats were maintained in the following season, completion percentage stands out as a number split down the middle.
Of the 10 cited above, only half were able to increase the number of times they successfully connected with receivers.
Count Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson, Matt Ryan and Ben Roethlisberger among those who recorded a high completion percentage in their rookie seasons only to taper off in Year 2.
Explaining the completion-percentage drop is hard.
“It could be other teams getting used to that player,” Cowboys defensive tackle Tyrone Crawford said. “Maybe throwing different schemes designed for a certain player and that’s on offense or defense.
“Obviously if you’re schemed up well and you start off a game bad, it’s not easy mentally to get back into it. That’s something we’re taught well here. A lot of our guys trained well to get over those issues and others not so much, but that’s what anybody does in any sport in any part of the world.”