By Brandon Niles EBS Sports Columnist
I love the NFL draft. It’s something I’ve always been drawn to. The concept of molding a team from the ground up, and becoming a fan at the very beginning of a young professional player’s career, are some of my favorite aspects of following pro sports.
This is why I’m so excited by the early development of Dallas Cowboys rookie quarterback Dak Prescott.
The NFL is especially perfect for draft wonks like me, because it provides so many opportunities to get in on the bottom floor. The NBA is great for the immediate star power at the top of the draft, but it’s rare for more than a handful of NBA rookies to become long-term stars.
Baseball drafts are interesting, but nearly all the prospects bounce around in development leagues for a few years before seeing action on the big stage. In the NFL, 253 players were drafted this year, and in every one of the seven rounds, you can find players that are contributing to their teams in important ways right now. In the NFL draft, you never know who is going to be a difference maker.
Prescott was taken late in the fourth round of this year’s draft, with the 135th overall pick. He was a productive player at Mississippi State, with 56 touchdowns and 16 interceptions over his final two seasons, including only five picks last year.
The Cowboys were planning on developing Prescott as their third-string quarterback, but injuries to Tony Romo and Kellen Moore have forced him into the starting role. Prescott has wowed NFL fans, and led the team to a 5-1 record. He’s shown excellent decision-making, helping him to the third highest quarterback rating in football.
While having the best offensive line in the NFL and an elite running game helps Prescott, his poise and leadership is evident, and clearly a big reason for his early success. Prescott is completing an impressive 68 percent of his passes and frequently works through his progressions like a veteran.
Prescott has played so well, that it’s going to be hard to give the team back to Romo when he gets healthy. Romo’s likely return is on Nov. 6 against the Browns, but should the Cowboys sit Prescott after a blazing hot start?
I say no. Romo has been very good for Dallas over the past decade. However, he’s 36 years old and coming off a compression fracture to his vertebrae. He missed 12 games last season after breaking his collar bone twice, for the second and third time in his career.
I’m not convinced that even a healthy Romo represents the best chance for Dallas to win. In 10 years as a starter, Romo has gone 2-4 in the postseason, and has missed the playoffs entirely in six of those seasons—albeit he’s missed at least 10 games in two of those years.
Inserting Romo back into the lineup now could shift momentum without any guarantee of postseason success. The Cowboys should let Romo get healthy, play the year with Prescott as the starter, and get a full look at what the future is for them at the quarterback position. Right now, that future looks very bright, and the fan base is fully engaged.
If Romo comes in and struggles, fans will be clamoring for him to be replaced. On the other hand, if Prescott struggles, the team could always use Romo’s health as justification for the timing of his return. If Prescott continues to do well, the decision gets deferred to the offseason.
Keeping Prescott as the starter is a win-win scenario for both the short-term and the long-term goals of the franchise. Dallas fans can be excited about having an heir apparent at quarterback, while remaining competitive this season. Meanwhile, Prescott can continue to gain experience and energize the fan base.
To me, keeping the rookie behind center is the only viable option in Dallas.
Brandon Niles is a longtime fan of football and scotch, and has been writing about sports for the past decade. He is a fantasy football scout for 4for4 Fantasy Football and is co-host of the 2 Guys Podcast.