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Why Have So Many Turned on QB Ben DiNucci So Quickly?

There was an almost a 180-degree turn with many fans on Quarterback Ben DiNucci last year. After a lot of hype and interest as a 7th-round draft selection, the rookie had a disastrous first start against the Eagles and was never heard from again. But is one game enough to bury this kid as a contender for the backup job in 2021?

DiNucci was bad that day in Philly; no doubt about it. He was just 21-of-40 for 180 yards and no touchdowns passing, plus had two fumbles. He looked uncomfortable all day and contributed to a humiliating outing overall for the Cowboys against a division rival.

2020 was a humiliation across the board for the organization, but also a byproduct of extensive injury issues, poor coaching decisions, and the lack of offseason preparation due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Just about everything that could possibly going wrong last year did.

Think about this; here’s a kid whose last game was at James Madison University. He enters the NFL during the pandemic so doesn’t get the usual rookie orientation or even preseason games to help get acclimated.

Before he finally gets his chance, Ben watches the offense disintegrate as La’el Collins, Tyron Smith, and Zack Martin all get injured. He sees Dak Prescott go out for the year, and then a couple weeks later it’s Andy Dalton getting hurt.

All of a sudden, Ben DiNucci is the starting quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys. That first start is on the road against the Philadelphia Eagles with a chance at winning the NFC East still very much on the table.

Even though Zack Martin did return for that game, he was playing hurt and wasn’t enough to make the offensive line solvent. DiNucci was under fire all day, struggling mightily but only moderately more than Dalton had the previous two games.

Sure, we all wanted the Cinderella story. We wondered who might play “The Nooch” in the future Disney movie. But instead of giving us a fairy tale, Ben DiNucci just did what most players would in the first start on one of the worst teams in football.

Who Will Open Up 2021 At Backup Quarterback?
Dallas Cowboys quarterback Ben DiNucci (Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports)

The Cowboys were right to give another QB prospect, Garrett Gilbert, a shot the following week and he nearly pulled off a stunner against the undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers. But Gilbert was no bright-eyed rookie; a 2014 draft pick who’d been around the league and also played professionally in the Alliance of American Football in 2019.

The funk that DiNucci had left everyone in benefitted Gilbert, who’s now almost overrated because of how much better he looked the following week. Many are also taking that too far in assuming it means DiNucci just isn’t NFL material.

In 1989, starting his first NFL game against the New Orleans Saints, a former 1st-overall pick named Troy Aikman completed 48% of his passes, threw two picks with no touchdowns, and posted a laughable passer rating of just 40.2 on the day. Say what you want about DiNucci’s first start, but he didn’t get half the prep work Aikman did and he also managed not to throw any interceptions.

In 2006, coming in at halftime after years of grooming and with rising expectations that he would take over, Tony Romo promptly threw three interceptions against the Giants after replacing Drew Bledsoe.

Of course, we know how Troy and Tony turned out. My point is simple; one bad game can’t define a career anymore than one good game. DiNucci’s value as a QB prospect in 2021 is no more defined by his failure in Philly than Gilbert’s is by one strong showing against Pittsburgh.

The entire rookie class of 2020 deserves some mercy given how the circumstances under which they entered the league. And even if it had been a normal year, how well should we have really expected a 7th-round pick to perform in his first start on the road in a rivalry game?

Sure, Ben DiNucci may not be cut out for the NFL. But it’s far too soon, and with far too little evidence, to make that assertion.

What do you think?

Jess Haynie

Written by Jess Haynie

Cowboys fan since 1992, blogger since 2011. Bringing you the objectivity of an outside perspective with the passion of a die-hard fan. I love to talk to my readers, so please comment on any article and I'll be sure to respond!


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  1. The Dinucci hype was tied to the Dak Haters movement. When all the Dak Haters actually had to see Dinucvi abd Dalton play, the hype collapsed. The Haters had said anyone could take the Dallas offense to more success than Dak. Well, that did not turn out so the reality of DiNucci and company led to silence.

  2. I’ll include myself in the Dak hate , though i consider myself a realist, not a fantasist like most Cowboys fans are,

    say what you want about AD, he won more than Dak in his tenure last year, and if he had what Dak had his first couple years, yes he would’ve won easily and win better than Dak did, that’s my Opinion

    That said with the lack of O-Line, and lack of D, Dak is the better QB than AD.

    Now back to Dinucci, you have a point about Dinucci, but I just don’t see how you can justify playing him over Gilbert after that game he had vs. Pitt, maybe that was the beginning of the end for Pitt as they went downhill from there, or maybe Gilbert played that well, all i know is I’d go with Gilbert than Dinucci in future

  3. If I’m building a team and I know i have a elite O-Line, a decent D and weapons, I’ll take Brady any day of the week, if i don’t have those things then I’ll take Mahomes, that’s how I view Dak vs. AD

  4. Dinucci was never suppose to sniff the field his first year. He was considered a developmental project and to judge him based on being thrown to the lions on a team that was in dissaray, is unfair to him. Not saying he is NFL material, but it’s too early to make that proclamation. That said I like Gilbert. He could hold down the fort for a few games if need be.

    Dalton better then Dak……c’mon i thought we had put all that nonsense to bed.

  5. We saw him throw the ball. That’s all we needed to see. Dinucci looks as natural throwing as Gandhi does eating a steak.

  6. Cowboys have probably the weakest backup quarterbacks in the NFL.
    Can’t believe they didn’t spend one of their many draft picks on a quarterback such as Sam Ehlinger for example.
    If Dak gets hurt again Cowboys in deep trouble and playing for next year’s first draft pick.

  7. I wouldn’t say anyone has given up on DiNucci. Seriously, it was the media who tried to tell us he might be hidden treasure, all while knowing Dak is our QB. He really is “just a guy” on the roster. I don’t think anyone has any false hope he will be the second coming of…”fill in the blank.” Garret Gilbert has far more experience than Ben does. Nonetheless how can you suggest anyone has given up on a player with one start under his belt when clearly Dak is the starter near and long term and he is simply an option that may or may not have anything more than a cup of coffee in the NFL.

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