Who's Ben DiNucci? Birds Studying Tape Of Cowboys Rookie
For the spiraling Dallas Cowboys, another week of quarterback roulette seems like a foregone conclusion.
The 2-4 Cowboys, who haven’t exactly played inspired football through seven weeks, have seen their high-powered offense crash and burn without quarterback Dak Prescott at the controls.
For perspective: Prescott's backup, Andy Dalton, completed just 43-of-73 pass attempts for 341 yards while adding a touchdown and three interceptions the past two weeks. The 32-year-old averaged a paltry 5.3 yards per pass attempt and yielded a 61.2 completion percentage across four appearances this season.
However, Dalton sustained an inexcusable – and illegal – blow to the head from Washington linebacker Jon Bostic after sliding Sunday, prompting a premature exit. The veteran is currently in concussion protocol entering Week 8.
Though the team remains optimistic, Dallas will likely be without Dalton’s services for the pivotal divisional tilt at the Linc.
With Dalton on the mend, the team will entrust third-stringer Ben DiNucci to rescue its floundering offense. The rookie from James Madison University completed 2-of-3 pass attempts in relief of Dalton against Washington for 39 yards.
Much like his detoured path to the pros, DiNucci encountered his share of roadblocks throughout his collegiate trail.
DiNucci, from the Pittsburgh suburb of Wexford, Pa., was once billed as a three-star prospect from Pine-Richland High School. After originally committing to the University of Pennsylvania, DiNucci had second thoughts late in the recruiting process. Instead, the renowned pocket-passer opted to remain close to home and attend the University of Pittsburgh amid interest from newly appointed head coach Pat Narduzzi.
With junior Nathan Peterman firmly entrenched as the Panthers’ starter, DiNucci was issued the redshirt designation in 2015. It wasn’t until the latter stages of his redshirt freshman campaign that DiNucci’s patience would be rewarded.
Though his initial appearance came in mop-up duty against Duke, DiNucci’s debut season ended with his first career touchdown pass in the 2016 Pinstripe Bowl against Northwestern.
DiNucci made six starts the following season, completing 88-of-158 of his passes for 1,091 yards, five touchdowns, and five interceptions before being supplanted by true freshman Kenny Pickett.
With a two-year shelf life remaining before his looming eligibility expiration, DiNucci bolted for FCS powerhouse James Madison in Harrisonburg, Va.
DiNucci quickly ascended the Dukes’ depth chart in his first season, starting all 13 games, throwing for 2,275 yards, 16 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions while adding 433 yards and nine touchdowns as a runner. The redshirt junior compiled the third-best completion percentage in the nation (68.3).
For an encore, DiNucci completed 268-of-378 pass attempts for 3,441 yards, 29 touchdowns, and six interceptions last season. He also proved to be equally efficient as a runner, accumulating 569 yards and seven touchdowns.
The CAA’s Offensive Player of the Year and first-team all-conference quarterback finished his Dukes' career ranked fourth in passing yards (5,716) and passing touchdowns (45) while ranking seventh in total offense (6,718).
While the enigmatic signal-caller demonstrated marked improvement over his career from a poise and pocket-presence standpoint, glaring deficiencies in his game prompted most evaluators – myself included – to slot him as an undrafted free agent. One AFC personnel man told ITB's Geoff Mosher that he'd "be shocked if anyone else in the league had him draftable."
DiNucci possesses above-average arm strength and can extend plays with his legs. However, like most projects, his velocity and ball placement can be volatile at times, and his overall game lacks refinement.
Despite DiNucci’s flaws, his enticing traits and winning pedigree are what teams typically seek in a late-round flier, though I would hardly deem the JMU product to be a pro-ready passer.
As depleted as the Eagles are on both sides, they tend to elevate their level when stakes are highest. Look for a hungry defensive line to rattle the rookie in prime-time. They've already started checking out his tape from college. "Yeah we were on that tape [Monday]," defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said. "Watching some of his college film, just getting a feel for him as an athlete, some of the throws he made, things like that. If you're good enough to make a 53-man roster, that deserves our respect." – Andrew DiCecco (@ADiCeccoNFL) is a Staff Reporter/Content Producer for InsideTheBirds.com. Listen to the latest "Inside The Birds" podcast here: