The Andy Dalton impact

Written by Kip Earlywine

Last year, Rob and I made it no secret that we weren’t exactly the world’s biggest fans of TCU quarterback Andy Dalton.  Dalton wasn’t without his merits, but ultimately I felt that as an athletic quarterback who would play whole games without checking a second read, he wasn’t much different than Charlie Whitehurst.  Obviously, many NFL front offices value intangibles more than we do.  Even our own front office rated Dalton as their #3 quarterback ahead of guys like Jake Locker, Ryan Mallett, Christian Ponder, and even Cam Newton.

Regardless of what we thought, Andy Dalton was widely considered a 2nd round prospect by NFL GMs.  His selection and rookie success rewarded the Bengals for what was probably just a typical stubborn move by owner/GM Mike Brown.  Andy Dalton the prospect was never the thinking man’s quarterback, rather, he was the quarterback for someone who just wants a winner and cares little about the details.  That said, even if on the surface the over-drafting of Dalton doesn’t appear terribly nuanced, I have to give Brown a lot of credit for thinking it through.  The Bengals realized that getting both AJ Greene and Andy Dalton could net a better result than drafting Blaine Gabbert or Jake Locker and pairing him with a nondescript second round receiver.

So what happened?  Andy Dalton posted numbers slightly superior to Sam Bradford’s offensive rookie of the year season and his team won 9 games (and a playoff berth) while playing in the same division as the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers.  He did that on a team that finished 4-12 the year before with Carson Palmer at quarterback, and who lost their best defensive player (Johnathan Joseph) in free agency.  Andy Dalton still has long odds of ever being an All-pro quarterback.  But given the full context, it could easily be argued that he had one of the five most impressive quarterback debuts in NFL history.

I just finished watching Dalton in a losing effort against the Texans.  While it would be easy to pick on a guy after a 31-10 loss, Dalton impressed me today.  He went on the road against arguably the toughest pass defense in the NFL.  The Texans were on the inside track for home field advantage throughout the playoffs before Matt Schaub went down, and both the fans and players were energized for the first playoff game in the franchise’s history.  Dalton didn’t have a particularly great performance, but I saw a lot of technical improvements over his TCU days- he actually did check beyond his first read this time.  To put it in very simple terms, Dalton actually looked like a real NFL quarterback.  I may not agree with the draft pick spent on Dalton, but it appears that Mike Brown somehow won this one, just like he somehow won the Carson Palmer fiasco despite playing his hand completely wrong.  Hey it happens.

But it never would have worked out if not for the Bengals securing AJ Greene first.

Enter the 2012 draft.  Andrew Luck is unofficially officially the #1 pick.  After that, you have a couple teams that would consider investing in a quarterback, but aren’t exactly “ready” for a quarterback either.  Barring a surprise entry such as Tyler Wilson, Robert Griffin pretty much stands alone as the only legit first round quarterback from the second pick onward.  The new car smell on Griffin’s Heisman trophy coupled with Matt Barkley’s conspicuous absence has vaulted Griffin into lofty draft territory by an overzealous media.  Griffin could absolutely go top five, but a mini-fall should not be unexpected either.  Like Jake Locker, he has sublime potential, but a laundry list of things to nitpick him on.  It could be argued that Griffin’s timing is better than Locker’s, and as a result those flaws might be less examined or less emphasized.  But like all top 10 range quarterbacks, Griffin will be put under a microscope and mountains will be made of mole hills, which could be a problem for Griffin as his resume has a bit of a mole infestation going on.

Long story short, there are two teams (Cleveland and Washington) who are in a remarkably similar situation to the Bengals last year.  Might they view Dalton’s success as a roadmap?

In the 2011 draft, the Bengals picked 4th overall and had access to the #2 quarterback on the board at that point, but lacked weapons to accommodate a drafted quarterback.  In 2012, the Cleveland Browns will also pick 4th, have access (presumably) to the #2 quarterback on the board and lack weapons to accommodate that pick.  As much as I kick myself for not hyping up Greg Little (who I thought the world of last April), Little isn’t yet a true #1 receiver and Cleveland’s offense in general is pretty barren outside of the offensive line.

The Redskins will pick sixth and are in a similar situation.  They have a semi-promising young running back in Roy Helu and a productive tight end in Fred Davis, but their leading receiver last year was 31 year old Jabar Gaffney.  Roy Helu- a running back mind you- started all of five games and finished 3rd on the team in receptions, ahead of all but Gaffney among the team’s wide receivers.    While its clear that quarterback is the top need in Washington, wide receiver is not far behind.

The early second round of the 2012 draft will likely feature both Ryan Tannehill and Brock Osweiller, who are at least on par with Andy Dalton as prospects, even if they missed the crazy hype train.  The early first round will have no shortage of hyped wide receivers, with Justin Blackmon leading the pack.  He may not be AJ Greene, but in terms of hype, he’s not terribly far off.  Its possible that Dwight Jones could enter the discussion as well.

Some may question the wisdom of passing on Griffin for any reason, but for a pair of former hotshot west coast offense gurus entering a critical put up or shut up year, the Andy Dalton path to quick success has a lot of appeal.  Drafting Griffin, starting him right away, and denying him the kind of weapons he enjoyed at Baylor is a faulty short term strategy.  And unfortunately for both Holmgren and Shanahan, short term thinking probably has more value to them at this point.

Now I am not saying that I expect Cleveland or Washington to pass on Griffin, but I do think that teams could look at the Dalton formula and believe it could work for them as well.  And while I doubt that Griffin would ever reach the 11th or 12th pick, every pick that he falls is good news for the Seahawks should they be interested in his services.


  1. Brandon Adams

    Dalton has demonstrated that limited QB’s can be schemed and equipped into success. What still, still, still needs to be proven is whether that will be enough against the truly elite offenses.

  2. Will

    Have to disagree with you there, Kip. For all the hype he’s got, I certainly wasn’t all that impressed with Dalton. Like Brandon says above, Cincinnati runs a perfect scheme for Dalton. Their offense is incredibly simplistic and uses a bunch of short passes and checkdowns with the occasional jump ball thrown to Green deep. Almost any QB could succeed in that offense and while Dalton did have some decent moments, he still didn’t perform too well against the good defenses they faced.

    You mention how they won nine games this year but only one of those wins came against a team with a winning record. They also got swept by both the Steelers and the Ravens and Dalton was a big reason why. You also say they lost their best defensive player (which they did), but their defense was still in the top ten for most of the season and is likely the main reason why the Bengals made it to the playoffs. Without Green, Dalton would not have close to the statistics he did and since there’s no receiver as good as Green in this draft, I think it’s a moot point.

  3. Rob

    Have to agree with WIll on tonight’s performance, he was very poor. This is the thing – it was a game that was crying out for someone to take control, Dalton couldn’t do it. When they went behind, he forced things and made mistakes. He got rattled. Maybe he learns from that, but one of the big things I noticed watching a lot of Dalton as a junior was his tendency to let mistakes get to him, to have patches of really poor play in a given game and the frequency with which he became rattled. He deserves credit for a pretty good rookie season, but he deserves most credit for coping without a proper off-season. It’s also a great weapon, because next year the league will know a lot more about him.

    Having said that, I agree with Kip’s overall point. I could easily see Cleveland drafting Trent Richardson (rather than a WR) and going with a QB later. I could see Washington improving their line or drafting a WR like Blackmon, before targeting Ryan Tannehill and/or Peyton Mannng. That would put Miami in position to possibly draft RG3 and then you’re looking at needing the #7 or #8 pick rather than the #2 or #3.

  4. Kip Earlywine

    I would agree that no WR in this draft can match Greene, but there is a lot of talent regardless. I don’t think being ~90% as good as Greene makes it a moot point, especially when Osweiler and Tannehill are arguably better prospects than Dalton was.

    I also think that while its true that Dalton wasn’t the main reason his team made the playoffs, I doubt they would have made it without him. We can say what we want about the specifics, but he produced results. He posted passer ratings around or above the NFL median 8 times, including four games over 100.

    ANY rookie quarterback is a longshot to give you results like that, simplified offense or not. For FO’s/coaches on the hotseat who need to produce immediate results through a drafted quarterback, taking this approach could be an appealing, if not preferred, option.

  5. Cullen

    “I don’t think being ~90% as good as Green makes it a moot point, especially when Osweiler and Tannehill are arguably better prospects than Dalton was.”

    I don’t think you can properly express a player’s ability as a percent of another player. What made A.J. Green such a special prospect and game changing player is his awesome catch radius. You can essentially just toss the ball in his general direction and he’ll find a way to make a play on the ball because of his awesome athleticism and leaping abilities (and Dalton took full advantage this year). As much as like Justin Blackmon this year, neither he nor any other receiver prospect in this draft replicates that ability so this seems to be a case of comparing apples and oranges.

    And while Osweiler and Tannehill may have more potential than Dalton did and does, neither are nearly as pro ready as he was. Both are pretty significant projects with a number of issues who lack experience or the ability to really read defenses so again I don’t think they are comparable to Dalton.

  6. Darnell

    Not a big fan of Dalton – seems like the type of QB you’d always want to upgrade from. Good enough to take a team with a running game and a good defense to a winning season but not much further.

  7. Kip Earlywine

    I don’t think its apples to oranges to compare Dwight Jones as a lesser AJ Greene, though in fairness I believe in Jones more than most. And while its true that Tannehill and Osweiler lack experience, at least they checked a 2nd read from time to time and didn’t get 100% of their production from a gimmick offense in a non-BCS conference. Their tools/potential also outshine Dalton by quite a bit. In isolation, I’d take either over Dalton in a heartbeat.

  8. dave crockett

    In terms of CLE and WAS (MIA too), I really think both will think hard about attacking their QB needs in the FA market and use the draft to increase talent in other areas.

    I think CLE may be the team most interested in Flynn. If Peyton Manning can play WAS will definitely be in the mix. MIA is more of the wildcard. It depends on what they do for coach.

  9. MJ

    Take away Dalton’s “heave it ups” to Green and Gresham, and you have a QB, who isn’t capable of threatening a D past 10 yards. He had a successful season, but in all honesty, this is his ceiling and I very much agree with previous posts about the scheme and team around him masking his severe physical limitations.

  10. Rob

    A point I touched on a lot last season in reviewing Dalton – he lets negative plays and surroundings get to him way too much. Then I saw this collection of tweets today:!/ckparrot/status/156049573255708674!/ckparrot/status/156050193928830977!/ckparrot/status/156050012810379264!/ckparrot/status/156050363764588544

    “Reporter said Pacman shoved off Zimmer, and Dalton threw his helmet over the bench. And then Dalton played like he was rattled.”

    “Threw a couple of picks, got down & from there he was rattled. Patterson talked about how other players got rattled bc of him.”

    “This is something we talked about pre-Draft, Dalton’s Fiesta Bowl. In 1st quarter the headsets blew out. Dalton couldn’t deal.”

    “And I watched Dalton’s post-game after Fiesta Bowl. He implied blame on everyone around him, coaches, players, not himself.”

  11. Glen

    Why do people think Dalton was doomed to failure? He won many games in college, had a high completion rating and isn’t slow witted. I think he’ll continue to improve into an excellent quarterback.

  12. Jarhead

    I honestly think that we may be able to take a page out of “Dalton’s Law”, as it were. Save for the fact that we have more headroom to groom an understudy as opposed to putting him out there week one. Seattle could take a 2nd or 3rd round flier on A. Davis or Osweiler while adding a playmaker on O or a team leader on D with their Round 1 (Kuechly, please). We have enough talent on this team to take a long term thinking position but exercise a short term thinking approach. WAS, CLE, and MIA can find a way to resolve their issues, and it may indirectly help us by making more players available that we wouldn’t otherwise have to choose from. Sorry, but Griffin really doesn’t make me say ‘Can’t wait!’ that much any more. He almost got outmatched by the Huskies in that bowl in essentially a home game for his swan song. And he was DEFINITELY out-played by Keith Price. So let WAS, MIA, or CLE slug it out for Griffin for all I care, because it just makes the talent pool we have to select from that much deeper. We won’t be stuck in the same predicament as CIN, where your choices are Dalton, Dalton, or Dalton, and then you have to start him cause he’s all you’ve got. Jackson has proven he can at least stay the course and when the understudy is ready, we put him in the best position to succeed. Plus, it’s much harder to work on improving mechanics, managing the offense, and memorizing check downs and hot-reads when you are continually preparing to face another NFL defense the next week. If we have some time to coach a young QB without the pressure of winning on sunday, we could see a player drafted in a similar position to Dalton display a much more natural and higher level of success

  13. Colin

    I think it just goes to show that you really gotta get your QBOTF in the 1st round. Guys like Dalton or McCoy may turn out to be good players but they’ll never be in that elite status.

    Rob, have you done a piece on Brock Osweiler? He seems intriguing. I read the small one you did with the other QBs but does he have a bit of intrigue that a guy like Tannehill may not have?

  14. Tom

    Kip, it was a good piece and I agree with your overall assessment of Dalton. Coming out of college, Dalton always reminded me of Rich Gannon, who was a late bloomer but a very heady and competitive QB.

    The area I disagree with you is your logic about Washington and Cleveland following Cincy’s 2011 blueprint because the 2011 QB/WR situation is the EXACT OPPOSITE of the 2012 QB/WR paradigm.

    In 2011, there were 2 elite WR’s and reason Atlanta gave away a farm to move up for Julio Jones. At QB, Newton, Gabbert, Locker, Ponder, Mallett, Dalton and Kaepernick received varying grades but you had 7 to choose from.

    Thus, Cincy was able to take the best WR of 2 knowing that 2 or 3 of the 7 QB’s would likely fall into their lap early in Rd 2.

    2012 is the exact opposite.

    There are 2 elite QB’s in Luck and RG3 but a potentially solid 6 – 1st round graded WR’s in Floyd, Jeffery, Jones, Blackmon, Wright and Sanu.

    Holmgren has to be smart enough to figure this out and snatch the game changing QB in RG3 at #4 and then come back at the 20’s selection they received from Atlanta and grab an elite receiver to complement RG3. Cleveland could get Sanu or Wright or maybe Jeffery if Holmgren sees fit.

    If it’s so obvious to a message board hack, it should be crystal clear to Holmgren on how to build his team and since Colt McCoy isn’t taking Cleveland anywhere, neither will another RB like Richardson, Holmgren has to be sitting back there looking at the 2012 draft prospects dreaming of a QB/WR – 1st rd duo.

    Now it’s Pete and John’s chance to throw a monkey wrench at the walrus and move up into the #3 position and snag RG3 from out of Holmgren’s grasp. We can’t sit back and pray that both Holmgren and then Shanahan pass on RG3. It’s not happening.

    My career is in sales and negotiations and unless you learn to maneuver and out smart your competition, you’ll always play second fiddle and frankly, I’m tired of having an empty Lombardi case and want Paul Allen to hoist that hardware sooner than later.

    I enjoy both your work and Rob’s in this forum.

  15. Tom

    Will –

    “Like Brandon says above, Cincinnati runs a perfect scheme for Dalton. Their offense is incredibly simplistic and uses a bunch of short passes and checkdowns with the occasional jump ball thrown to Green deep. Almost any QB could succeed in that offense …”

    That is why I’m not a big fan of what I view as game managers or projects as they can typically only take you so far.

    Look at Matt Ryan, who Rob compared to Matt Barkley. How many weapons does Ryan need to win a playoff game? I like Ryan but I’m not a fan of that simplistic offense that should be high octane with Roddy, JJones, Gonzo, Douglass, Turner, Rodgers, Snelling.

    What’s the problem?

    Ryan looks the part and gets hyped because he makes the necessary reads, barks out his audibles, tech sound, has some athleticism to throw on the run and has a catchy nickname.

    However, nothing Ryan does is special. He’ll make some excellent throws at times but has never wowed me in the least. That is why I’m glad Barkley isn’t an option as he falls into that same Matt Ryan category and why I’ve been wanting RG3 for months now.

    The Hawks need a game CHANGER at QB and not a game MANAGER or 2nd-7th rd project.

    I hope our fanbase doesn’t set their standards so low that it’s acceptable to draft some Osweiler or Cousins or Davis and hope they develop into something. Let’s think big time and think Luck or RG3.

    Go Hawks! 🙂

  16. Rob

    Colin – I’ll be doing a piece on Osweiler, possibly tomorrow. Legitimate physical potential, but alos a lot of things I don’t like – including an erratic streak when things going wrong. He seems a little immature.

  17. Colin

    Awesome! Thanks Rob.

    Tom, I think you nailed it big time. Didn’t see the Falcons Giants game but I suspect Ryan was mediocre again. He has too much talent around him to not be performing well in the playoffs. I don’t agree with the Barkley statement, largely because I do think you have a bit of a double standard on your comparisons of him to RG3. Seems that you are willing to say Barkley performs well against ‘below average college secondaries’, but I have yet to hear you say that about RG3. Not calling you out, I just don’t see it that way.

  18. Michael (CLT)

    I wonder, when Seattle finally gets around to QBOTF, if fans don’t run him out of town the first year. If Seattle had drafted Gabbert, the fanbase would be calling for Scheider’s head. Perhaps that is why I was so excited for Dalton. A rookie is a rookie is a rookie. Carroll really cannot afford much more mediocrity. The window is closing for such years.

  19. Kip Earlywine

    That’s a good point Tom. I hadn’t really thought about drafting Griffin and trading up for someone like Sanu, but that could definitely be a possibility.

  20. Tom

    Colin, I don’t have a double standard comparing Barkley to RG3.

    I’ve said all along I like Barkley but think he’s too game manager and doesn’t do anything special or anything more than what Matt Ryan does. Barkley finally made a couple of those anticipatory middle of the field stick throws that I’d been harping about for months against UCLA and Oregon but Barkley doesn’t WoW and that’s with a 1st team All American Receiver in Woods and a quality #2 in Lee.

    Sure, he’s technically solid, knows how to read D’s and audibles. Aren’t those the same attributes that Matt Ryan exhibits? His arm is decent, his athleticism is decent but like those other USC QB’s that were surrounded with quality talent and were drafted in the top 10 of the NFL draft, they didn’t transition that well despite the draft selection and Barkley has shown me nothing to indicate that he’ll be any different.

    With RG3’s innate talent, I’ve always labeled him as a game changer with more NFL upside while I’ve labeled Barkley as a game manager that doesn’t do anything special. Right? Right!

    We’ll find out down the road.

  21. Tom


    I was just saying that I don’t think Holmgren will follow the “Dalton formula” that you wrote about because there’s only 2 elite QB’s but there are potentially 6 – 1st rd grade WR’s. It was the exact opposite for the 2011 draft and why Cincy drafted the way they did.

    Thus, I see Holmgren snagging RG3 at #4 and then using their Falcons 2012 #1 selection to grab a WR. Who knows which receiver(s) will drop but doubt that all 6 will go in the top 20.

    I liked Holmgren but don’t want him to draft an RG3 / WR (Wright/Floyd/Sanu) combo and when I look at their needs, that’s highly likely if Pete and John don’t jump in front with a quality offer to the Vikings and the #3 choice.

    Holmgren will then look like some genius in a couple of years when it’s as crystal clear as it gets from my vantage point of knowing your competition.

  22. seattl

    Why is it so hard to admit that Dalton is playing well and appears to have been a good pick? I thought he would be as terrible as you did and I am willing to admit an obvious truth: I was wrong. Perhaps this is a fluke season, but until we see evidence of that, let’s give Dqlton some credit. How can you say “it could easily be argued that he had one of the five most impressive quarterback debuts in NFL history” in the middle of “not a thinking man’s qb”, “never will be an all-pro”, “I was right that he isn’t first round material” stubborn disclaimers. His performance this year as a rookie QB, which is all we have to measure him by, is great value for a pick-35, and would be good value for a pick-25. Mike Brown was right and we were wrong.

  23. Rob

    Why does anyone have to be right and wrong after one rookie season? It wont be judged as a good or bad pick today. If Cincy are drafting another QB in the next three years it’ll be a bad pick. Dalton has to build off this seaso, which had both highs and lows. Too soon to tell whether ‘Mike Brown was right’, but that playoff perfomance raises a lot of the old concerns about Dalton.

  24. Jeff

    Should we be worried that our front ofifce evaluated Gabbert as a better fit than Cam Newton? Ill give them as a pass on Whitehurst because all the other brilliant evaluations they’ve done. T-Jack is just stopgap and hes almost exceeded most of our expectations. We all know what he is. But when do we start wondering if this group can evaluate quarterbacks properly?

    I dont see any consistency in what they are looking for. Whitehurst seemed to fit what Bates wanted and T-Jack was just a lockout fallback plan. So whats next KIp and Rob and what types of qualities should we be looking for? Dont like Tanenhill aka Whitehurst 2.0

  25. seattl

    You’re right that he threw some interceptions when it counted and overal may have had a bad game, and Kip’s right that he made some reads and wasn’t bad moving the ball. But this article was more about his season, how good it was and at the same time how little credit Dalton deserves for it, “But it never would have worked out if not for the Bengals securing AJ Greene first”(I don’t know that this is true). It feels overly-concerned with maintaining the point that Dalton wasn’t a good prospect, which I see as stubborn, as it is based on games he played, won and excelled in at the college level, on the premise that he he ran a spread offense and threw to his first read a lot. Maybe someone who still holds this position should do so with less certainty and acknowledge that Dalton might be legit. His success at the NFL and checking the second read there makes me think so what if he didn’t do it in college when he didn’t need to.

    In regard to the Seahawks, I would rather have taken a shot at QB, skeptical though I was about Dalton, and go with Breno or upgrade RT in an appropriate round.

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