INDIANAPOLIS – If the 15 quarterbacks at this year's Scouting Combine need an extra glimmer of sanguinity about their NFL future, here are two meaningless statistics from last year's NFL Draft:
Dak Prescott was the seventh of 15 quarterbacks drafted.
Dak Prescott was the 135th player drafted.
As 32 teams pour worthwhile time and resources into evaluating the nation's best college prospects here in Indianapolis, Prescott's rise from fourth-round pick to AP Offensive Rookie of the Year is a blunt reminder that the draft is an inexact science capable of surprising the entire league – even the team that drafted him.
"If you look at it statistically and his team having success, it's as good as any quarterback that's ever come into our league as a rookie," Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said. "And to get him in the fourth round is nothing short of miraculous."
Of course, it took unforeseen circumstances for Prescott to rise from third-string to starter: Kellen Moore's season-ending ankle injury the first week of training camp, Tony Romo's back fracture in the third preseason game.
Prescott hardly won the job by default. He eased concerns about his inexperience with a near-flawless preseason, then kept a healthy Romo on the sidelines by leading Dallas to a franchise-record tying 13 wins as the only quarterback in NFL history not named Tom Brady to throw for at least 3,500 yards in a season with fewer than five interceptions.
The process started here in Indy, and before that, at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., where the Cowboys coached the North team opposite Prescott's South squad.
"We had done some research on him, but our guys walked away from the Senior Bowl liking Dak," Jones said. "Even though they didn't coach him they were around, were in meetings. I'd say the interest was tweaked by now (at last year's Combine) that we were very interested in him. But of course there was a lot of work still to be done. I think where we really got a great feel for him was when we had him in as one of our 30 (pre-draft visits.)"
In hypothetical "2016 re-drafts" on NFL.com, Sports Illustrated and ESPN, all three outlets recently agreed Prescott would have been the first overall pick.
There are no do-overs. He is the Cowboys' quarterback of the present and future. The franchise plans for him to be in Dallas "for the next 12 to 15 years," Jones said.
This year's quarterback class, led by top prospects such as North Carolina's Mitch Trubisky and Clemson national champion Deshaun Watson, will look to prove they can step in and play right away for whoever drafts them if needed, too.
"I've always been a Dak fan," Watson said. "Just being able to watch him, his success and where he's coming from, how he's been able to translate to the professional league and be so calm and poised and lead a great franchise like the Cowboys. Just being able to watch him to do what he do is very humbling and it builds confidence for all the younger guys, too."
Tennessee's Josh Dobbs met Prescott at the Manning Passing Academy and played against his Mississippi State teams in the SEC.
"It was definitely great to see all the success that Dak had. You could tell he was going to be successful at the next level, and he has been and will continue to be," Dobbs said. "I'm excited. You go from playing in the SEC, one of the top conferences in the nation, to playing in the National Football League against guys that you've been playing with for a while. I'm excited to see what the future holds."[embeddedad0]
It remains to be seen if the Cowboys would consider drafting a quarterback for a second consecutive year, this time as a backup to Prescott. Depth is a question mark. Tony Romo is under contract, but his future is one of the league's most popular offseason storylines. Kellen Moore and Mark Sanchez are set to be free agents.
At any position, the franchise will look to find more contributors throughout the draft, including the later rounds. Four of nine draft picks last season started games: Prescott, fourth overall pick Ezekiel Elliott, third-rounder Maliek Collins and sixth-rounder Anthony Brown.
"The biggest thing that we're trying to do right now at this part of the draft process is evaluate the players as purely as possible," head coach Jason Garrett said. "And then once we get closer to the draft we'll talk about strategies and needs and all of those things."
Prescott outperforming his draft position is a big reason the Cowboys will be picking 24 spots later in the first round than last year.