Former Pitt quarterback Ben DiNucci made his NFL debut on Sunday night as his Dallas Cowboys lost to the Philadelphia Eagles, 23-9.
I know that many Pitt fans will not care about DiNucci getting an NFL start in the slightest. But I was sufficiently intrigued and watched his performance Sunday night. Like other Pitt fans that probably watched, I was really curious as to how DiNucci would do.
I was surprised that DiNucci was a 7th round draft pick but I was floored that he actually made a roster. I based this on nothing more than what we saw from him at Pitt before he transferred to James Madison, where he finished his collegiate career. And what we saw at Pitt was, frankly, not real good. But Narduzzi was drafted and showed enough promise to stick. And thanks to injuries to Dak Prescott and Andy Dalton, well, DiNucci was next man up.
The biggest takeaway I had is that DiNucci’s game did not appear to have evolved all that much. Don’t get me wrong — he’s playing in the NFL. And for that, he gets all the respect in the world to me. And I didn’t expect him to come out throwing the ball all over the place. But I talk about his game evolution because he looked very much like the quarterback he was at Pitt. He made a handful of plays that made you think he could be effective at that level but was largely underwhelming.
On the night, DiNucci threw 40 times, which seems about 15-20 too many. But part of it was due to circumstance as the Cowboys trailed much of the game. He completed 21 of those passes but that subpar percentage was even less impressive given that many of his throws were short. very safe passes. He had only 180 passing yards and lost two fumbles while also running for 22 yards. He did not throw any interceptions but had a few balls that easily could have been picked. It just wasn’t a great game for him but, playing on the road in an important game, I don’t know that anyone would have predicted much better for an unheralded rookie.
I’m curious to see if DiNucci ever evolves his game to the point that he becomes more of a passer. I could see him being a guy you maybe bring in for a handful of plays when you need some mobility or a trick play — similar to what New Orleans does with Taysom Hill, utilizing him on gadget plays. I’m just not sure he ever finds any success in the NFL as a traditional passer. At James Madison against weaker competition, he had 3,441 yards passing as a senior. But that was also over 16 games for a modest 215 yard per game average.
The other side to that argument, of course, is that DiNucci is only a rookie and has plenty of time to figure things out and get better. And, hey, I’ll be the first to admit that seeing DiNucci in an actual NFL game was nothing I thought I’d ever see. So, I suppose the idea that DiNucci could get better as a passer isn’t entirely out of the realm of possibility.