Mike McCarthy Compares Cowboys Rookie QB to Former NFL Pro Bowler

Ben DiNucci

Getty Ben DiNucci

They say familiarity breeds contempt. For the Dallas Cowboys, it breeds hyperbolic comparisons.

The Cowboys selected James Madison quarterback Ben DiNucci in the seventh round of the 2020 NFL draft. Would they have taken him if new head coach Mike McCarthy’s brother, he revealed, wasn’t DiNucci’s eight-grade basketball coach? Maybe. Maybe not.

But things turn out the way things turn out. Reality is, DiNucci’s now a Cowboy, after the team sensed he’d sign elsewhere as an undrafted free agent, and McCarthy has a new pet project behind incumbent starter Dak Prescott.

A project with a helluva ceiling.

“He’s very accurate,” McCarthy said of DiNucci in his post-draft conference call, via The Athletic. “He reminds me of a young Marc Bulger.”

Like DiNucci, chosen No. 231 overall, Bulger was a late-round pick (No. 168), drafted by the New Orleans Saints in 2000. He bounced from the Saints practice squad to the Atlanta Falcons’ taxi team before finding a permanent NFL home in St. Louis.

Bulger eventually succeeded Kurt Warner under center, taking over The Greatest Show on Turf. And while he didn’t go on to enjoy a Warner-type, Hall of Fame career with the Rams, Bulger was highly successful in his own right, throwing for 22,814 yards, 122 touchdowns, and 84 interceptions on a 62.1-percent completion rate across 11 professional seasons, twice earning Pro Bowl nods.

DiNucci began his collegiate career with the Pitt Panthers, throwing for 1,107 yards, six touchdowns and seven interceptions on 91-of-167 passing (54.5 percent) across 11 games from 2015-17.

He transferred to JMU in 2018 and saw his numbers improve as his years wore on. DiNucci finished with 5,716 yards, 46 TDs, and 18 INTs over 29 appearances. He saved his best for last, completing 70-percent of his attempts in 2019 for 3,441 yards, 29 scores, and only six picks, earning AFCA First Team All-American honors.

A strict-ish pocket-thrower at 6-foot-2, 211 pounds, though he’s not the strongest or tallest, DiNucci prides himself on his ball placement and (perceived) dual-threat ability. His self-scouting report aligns with McCarthy’s.

“I’m an accurate quarterback,” he said in a post-draft conference call with Cowboys media, via The Athletic. “If the pocket breaks down I can use my legs and use some athleticism to do some things that might present challenges for defenses. I’m gonna put my head down and go to work.”

The Cowboys were linked to only two signal-callers throughout the pre-draft process — Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts, who went to the Eagles, and FIU’s James Morgan, who landed with the Jets — so their investment in DiNucci carries a fair amount of significance.

His arrival puts pressure on resident No. 2 QB Cooper Rush, who returned to Dallas this offseason by way of a one-year restricted free-agent tender. The club carried only two QBs on the 53-man roster in 2019, with Rush claiming the backup job over Mike White.

The difference? McCarthy has zero loyalty to Rush whereas he virtually hand-picked Bulger DiNucci. It remains to be seen whether this gives the latter a leg up in an inevitable training camp competition, but it certainly can’t hurt his chances.

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