Dak Prescott offers reminder: Cards haven’t drafted QB of future

Sep 24, 2017, 11:34 AM
(AP Photo/Roger Steinman, File)...
(AP Photo/Roger Steinman, File)
(AP Photo/Roger Steinman, File)

Quarterback play has been a topic of hot debate in the Valley the last two weeks — and two seasons. Although Cardinals coach Bruce Arians walked back his earlier criticism of Carson’s Palmer’s play in a Week 2 win in Indianapolis, Palmer’s advancing age (37) and declining stats have raised legitimate concerns about the team’s plans for the future.

In the five drafts since Steve Keim became general manager and Arians became coach, the Cardinals have selected one quarterback. They took Virginia Tech’s Logan Thomas with their fourth-round pick in 2014 (No. 120) and he made all of nine pass attempts before the Cardinals released him in September 2015.

When Arians first arrived, he told reporters that teams should draft a quarterback every year because it’s such a vital position to a team’s success, but the Cardinals haven’t followed that blueprint.

Arizona signed Blaine Gabbert to a one-year deal this offseason. There is some speculation that the Cardinals may be grooming him to take over despite a spotty six-year resume, but as the Dallas Cowboys come to town for Monday Night Football at University of Phoenix Stadium, they offer a harsh reminder that the Cardinals still don’t have a definite QB of the future.

Dallas selected Dak Prescott in the fourth round of the 2016 NFL Draft at No. 135 out of Mississippi State. Arizona made three selections before Prescott was off the board: defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche (No. 29), cornerback Brandon Williams (No. 92) and interior offensive lineman Evan Boehm (No. 128).

The plan was for Prescott to serve as a backup last season, but when Tony Romo suffered a compression fracture to the L1 vertebra in his back during the Cowboys’ third preseason game against the Seattle Seahawks, Prescott took over.

He completed 311 of 459 passes for 3,667 yards with 23 touchdowns, four interceptions and a passer rating of 104.9 that ranked third in the NFL behind Super Bowl QBs Matt Ryan and Tom Brady. The Cowboys won the NFC East with a 13-3 record, but lost a divisional playoff game to Green Bay, 34-31. Prescott threw for 301 yards, three TDs and an interception in that game. He won the Offensive Rookie of the Year Award over teammate Ezekiel Elliott.

“Any time you take Mississippi State to number one, you’re a hell of a player, you’re a hell of a leader,” Arians said of Prescott. “He went from a running quarterback to a passing quarterback. The improvement he made from his junior year to his senior year when they were spread and empty and throwing the ball a lot, [Mississippi State head coach] Danny Mullen did a great job with him.

“You could see the growth. Accuracy was up. You saw somebody that had a chance, but the one thing you knew you had was a natural-born leader.”

There were multiple factors in Prescott’s success. The Cowboys boasted what was widely viewed as the best offensive line in football last season, and Elliott’s presence took pressure off Prescott to throw. He finished 19th in the NFL in passing yards and 23rd in attempts.

Arians and Keim have rightly asserted that you have to trust your draft board when evaluating talent. They clearly did not think Prescott was worth the pick and in their system that may be true.

On the flip side, when you look over the handful of current starters or quality backups the Cardinals could have drafted the last three seasons — Derek Carr, Prescott, DeShone Kizer, Trevor Siemian and Jimmy Garoppolo among them — it’s fair to wonder why the Cardinals have not addressed the position.

Have they hold too long to the belief that Palmer could lead them to postseason success? Do they believe Gabbert can realize his potential as the 10th overall pick? Is the future plan to bottom out and draft high when the Palmer-Larry Fitzgerald era has ended?

The NFL Draft is an imperfect science, but Prescott serves as a reminder that there were opportunities to find a QB of the future while still winning — opportunities on which the Cardinals passed.

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