MOBILE, Ala. — Dak Prescott sees himself in Cam Newton and Russell Wilson.
Prescott, arguably the greatest player in the history of Mississippi State football, is on the path to the NFL draft right now, preparing with quarterback guru Tom Shaw in Orlando, Florida, for next week’s NFL scouting combine and his next chance to impress the league’s decision-makers after a solid week at the Senior Bowl.
And thanks to Newton and Wilson, the climate for an athletic, dual-threat quarterback like Prescott has never been better.
“They’ve opened the door for the dual-threat quarterback in the NFL,” Prescott said. “They’re able to make all the throws from the pocket, move in the pocket, be pocket passers first and then eventually use their feet in running plays — or in pure pressure, getting out of there, being mobile and making things happen.”
The door has been creaking open longer than Prescott remembers. From the legacy of Fran Tarkenton down through Randall Cunningham and on to Michael Vick, the NFL has always had a spot for transcendent players who were as capable on the hoof as they were in the pocket.
But Prescott, who is 6-foot-2 and weighs 226 pounds, is right to think the door is more open than it ever has been before. A dual-threat quarterback — Newton, Wilson and the 49ers’ Colin Kaepernick — has been a part of the past four Super Bowls, and players like Tyrod Taylor and Marcus Mariota are proving how effective dual threats can be.
Prescott is the best dual-threat option in this year’s draft, one of 10 players in FBS history to throw for more than 8,500 yards and rush for more than 2,000 in his collegiate career. He also said he thinks he has some of Newton and Wilson’s leadership qualities.
“The person I am, my intangibles set me apart,” Prescott said. “My ability to get others to follow, go out there and just lead, how I’m going to prepare for every situation as it unfolds on the field.”
Prescott could have declared for the NFL draft after a breakout 2014 season that saw him finish eighth in the Heisman voting. Instead, the Haughton native returned to Starkville to take care of unfinished business, and Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen had a message for his star quarterback.
“I don’t need you to make extraordinary plays,” Mullen told Prescott. “I want you to manage the game and just be a better quarterback out there.”
Prescott responded with his best season as a passer. No longer tempted to pull the ball down and run if his primary option was covered, Prescott raised his completion percentage from 61.6 to 66.2 percent, threw for a career-best 3,793 yards and tossed 29 touchdowns to just five interceptions, even though his rushing totals were the lowest of his three years as a starter — 588 yards after running for 829 as a sophomore and 986 as a junior.
Offered a chance to sit in on every coaches meeting after graduating in December of his junior year, Prescott soaked up Mullen’s offense, a scheme that he said runs many of the same plays he was taught by the Jacksonville Jaguars staff during Senior Bowl practices.
“I think (coming back) made me a better player, it improved my draft stock,” Prescott said. “I was able to understand everything in the offense.”
Prescott also said he believes he can show NFL teams he’s got the maturity they crave in quarterbacks.
His mother, Peggy, died of colon cancer during his first season as a starter. He has a one-inch scar over his right eye after being attacked at a concert during spring break in Panama City, Florida.
Where he fits in the draft remains to be seen. In an uncertain quarterback class, Prescott is rising after earning Most Outstanding Player honors at the Senior Bowl — the NFL Network’s Mike Mayock has Prescott ranked fifth among quarterbacks — but is a long shot to be picked in the first two rounds.
No matter where he’s picked, Prescott said he believes he’s ready for anything the NFL throws at him.
“(I’m) 22 years old, I’ve been through a lot of adversity,” Prescott said. “I’ve been through some things that a lot of people don’t go through until they’re older in life. It’s only helping me, it’s only allowing me to become a better man and show that I can get through adversity, fight through it and come out on a positive note.”