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Dan Mullen explains the importance of “winning” for quarterbacks

Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen, who coached Dak Prescott in college, joins Mike Florio to discuss what are the intangibles that make someone a winner on the field.

If Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott succeeds in the NFL, there will be one primary reason for it. His college coach, Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen, identified that factor on Thursday’s PFT Live on NBC Sports Radio.

“I honestly thought Dak was one of the better players in college football last year, and I think at the quarterback position,” Mullen said. “I thought he might have been the top quarterback. Now there were some guys maybe that had some attributes that people would be attracted to better but to me one of the most important things that I look for in a quarterback is being a winner. That’s one thing he is and so that’s one of the things that shocked me that he did drop so low as someone that was a winner at the level he was at.”

He’s a winner. It’s an assessment given to quarterbacks from time to time, but plenty believe it’s not applicable given the number of players who have a role in the success of a football team, with 10 other guys on offense and 11 on defense. So I asked Mullen to explain his belief that quarterback wins are relevant to the assessment and perception of quarterback play.

“Is he winning just turning and giving the ball to other people?” Mullen said. “Well, that’s still a winner. He’s still leading that group in what he’s doing. To me, a winner as I try to evaluate it is someone that does what it takes for the team to win. There are certain guys, there are certain times, certain games that you’re going to win handing the ball off, checking the ball down, managing the game, getting it to other people. There’s other times during the game where you’re a winner and you’re going to have to go out and make the play to win the game for your team.”

So how does that apply to Dak Prescott?

“Dak’s a guy that was able to do both during his career,” Mullen said. “When we needed him to step up and carry the team, he would. At other times he would manage the team and the game and put us in situations to be successful. Winners win. That’s not the only trait we look for. I think a lot of people look and they’re looking, ‘Hey, let’s look just at release, let’s look at arm strength, let’s just look at foot quickness or speed or ability to run.’ Those are traits to me that when I look for a quarterback are further on down the line and it’s some of the intangibles which are harder to evaluate but it’s some of the intangibles that you’re constantly trying to find in quarterbacks that are going to help you win. I think the most important thing is when that guy steps in the huddle and that guy looks at his teammates, there’s ten other guys on the field with him and there’s a bunch more looking on from the sideline saying, ‘As long as we have him in the huddle we have a chance to win the football game.’”

Mullen is right. A guy can do all the mechanical things a quarterback does, but if he doesn’t inspire the other players around him to believe in him and themselves, the team will have a harder time winning. It’s the ultimate intangible but it’s palpable, and you know it when you see it -- or hear it.

Peyton Manning had it. That’s one of the main reasons the Broncos won the Super Bowl last year, despite one of the worst statistical seasons of his career. He had the ability to lead others, which gave him the ability to hold them accountable in ways that typically only a coach can.

Mullen has seen those traits in Prescott at the college level. In 10 days, when the NFL’s equivalent of the Egg Bowl plays out in Dallas with Mississippi’s Eli Manning and the Giants coming to town, the Cowboys will find out if Prescott has those traits at the next level.