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If Dak Leaves Cowboys - Are there 2021 NFL Draft options?

What If Dak Prescott Is Really Done (Eventually) With the Dallas Cowboys? 2021 NFL Draft options? Part 3 of A Series

If you’re trying to game out scenarios on a Dallas Cowboys world without Dak Prescott, you have to consider the possibility that the Cowboys might see a solution in the 2021 NFL Draft. After all, that’s how they stumbled into Prescott in the first place, right?

Prescott was a fourth-round pick in 2016 and, at the time, the Cowboys liked his tools but certainly didn’t envision him as a starter right away. Well, one hit to Tony Romo’s back took care of that. Prescott has blossomed into a quality starting quarterback. But, in this scenario, Prescott is long gone after the 2020 season and the Cowboys need a replacement. As I noted in my previous pieces, the Cowboys quarterbacks that are under contract for 2021 don’t inspire confidence. The free-agent market is, at this moment, comprised of two names that you’re familiar with — Andy Dalton and Cam Newton. The rest of the potential options are either late in their career or are well behind Prescott in development.

So, could the Cowboys find a solution to their Dak-less life in the 2021 NFL Draft? Let’s tackle that question in Part 3.

Our writer, J.P. Scott, wrote a piece in June outlining the Top 10 quarterbacks in the 2021 NFL Draft. The desire to draft a rookie that could start right away might force the Cowboys to take a quarterback in the first round next year. The problem is that they’re probably good enough to make the playoffs, which would probably rule out a selection in the Top 10. That means the Cowboys would have to move up to get a quarterback that could do for them in 2021 what Prescott did for them in 2016 (but with a more mature offense and, theoretically, more pressure).

Which quarterbacks are worth that effort? Looking at Scott’s list, I see three.

Trevor Lawrence, Clemson. All he’s done is won a national championship, led Clemson to another national title game and played his way into a Heisman candidacy in 2020 (assuming there is a season, of course). He plays like he’s some sort of next-level video game prototype. He’s 6-foot-6, has a great arm, is highly accurate and runs like the wind. Right now he feels like a Top 5 selection. So does the next player on the list.

Justin Fields, Ohio State. Last year Fields, in his first season as a starter, blew the roof off of Ohio State’s offense, with 3,273 yards passing, 41 touchdown passes and rushed for another 10 touchdowns. He should only get better in 2020 and, after three years of college ball, he might be a Top 5 selection in 2021.

Trey Lance

North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance.

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Trey Lance, North Dakota State. There’s a reason the redshirt sophomore is on the cover of the 2020 College Football America Yearbook. After a season sitting behind Easton Stick (now with the Chargers), Lance led the Bison to their eighth national championship in nine years by throwing for 2,786 yards and 28 touchdowns in 2019, while rushing for 1,100 yards and 14 touchdowns. Many scouts see Lance as a first-round pick, but he might not crack the Top 10. That makes him a bit more in the Cowboys’ wheelhouse, assuming they’re a playoff team in 2020. But they would still likely have to move up.

So that’s it. That’s the first tier. The three quarterbacks that, to me, are worthy of chasing in the first round in a Dak-less scenario next year. These three are talented enough and experienced enough to make an impact right away in a Cowboys offense that would still feature running back Ezekiel Elliott and a stout offensive line led by Zack Martin.

But what about beyond that? The Cowboys’ last two long-term starting quarterbacks were an undrafted free agent (Tony Romo) and a fourth-round pick in Prescott. So the Cowboys don’t have to restrict their efforts to the first round. Here are three names on Scott’s list that could be Day 2 or Day 3 selections and could, one day, be a starter.

KJ Costello, Mississippi State. The Stanford transfer is now at Mississippi State and playing for Mike Leach. This coach could elevate Costello’s game to one that allows him to be a late first-round pick, and that could aid the Cowboys considerably in drafting him as a potential Prescott replacement. He has those measurables that NFL scouts like. He just doesn’t have the name recognition.

Sam Ehlinger, Texas. His game gets better and better every year. He’s a better passer than some give him credit for and he has a great run game to go with it. He’ll need a bit more time to develop in the NFL, but he could grow into a solid starter.

Brock Purdy, Iowa State. Purdy is the dark horse quarterback in this 2021 Draft, should he decide to leave school. Scouts are going to be taken aback by his passing ability and his above-average read of the field, if they’re not already.

Right now, the first-round options are much more appealing, but will require much more maneuvering by the Cowboys in order to get into position to select. Is that worth the trouble if there’s no Prescott in the picture? The Cowboys might not have a choice. When you consider the 2021 Cowboys roster options, and the options in free agency, the draft might be the Cowboys’ best route to find a replacement. But it’s not the final route we need to explore.

Nope there’s one more, and that’s the last piece — is there a viable trade option for the Cowboys to replace Prescott in 2021, should the need arise?