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ESPN: Andy Dalton a Top Candidate For "Breakout Year in 2012"

The second year starting for an NFL team of a young quarterback's career is usually pretty telling of what direction their careers will go. If they are able to avoid the dreaded "Sophomore Slump" and still play well, then you've probably got yourself a quarterback with a bright future ahead. If he regresses, then the confidence of the entire organization wanes, wondering if they truly have "their guy".

In this critical second season, usually more responsibility is given to the quarterback on the field with an expanded playbook, as well as being looked at as a true leader in the locker room (when they are given that coveted "C" on their jersey). Will the young man embrace the added responsibilities placed at his feet, or will he crumble under the immense pressure. The 2012 season will not only tell us a lot about Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton's physical abilities, but his mental makeup as well.

According to ESPN In$ider's Peter Keating, Dalton is poised to have a "breakout year in 2012":

If you're looking for the second-year player most likely to make a great leap forward in 2012, consider Andy Dalton instead. Check out this perfect storm: Dalton was the best prospect coming out of college in 2011, according to the Lewin Career Forecast. He has outstanding, still rapidly developing targets in A.J. Green and Jermaine Gresham. He's a dangerous downfield passer; he ranked fifth in the league with 16.5 yards per attempt (and had a QBR of 98.1) on passes of more than 20 yards, and his proficiency on vertical throws increased as the 2011 season went on. He led his team to the playoffs. And the Bengals are likely to get even better very soon, thanks to the draft picks they acquired in the Carson Palmer trade.

This is definitely music to Bengals fans ears here. Outside of the playoffs and Dalton's statistics in 2011, perhaps the most telling thing about Dalton's potential future successes is the kind of guy that he seems to be. He has an excellent mix of humility, confidence, intelligence and of course, physical ability. Though he isn't the physical specimen as some other NFL quarterbacks, Dalton lived up to his "Lewin Career Forecast" by doing what he did in college: playing smart football, making plays by moving out of the pocket and winning games by any means necessary.

Dalton also did this with some obvious holes on offense. Luckily, the Bengals were able to retain offensive coordinator Jay Gruden by extending his contract a few more seasons, which should help the youngster out immensely. The team will also get wide receiver Jordan Shipley back from injury next season, which will definitely help. If they add another viable receiving option, form a potent running game and beef up the suspect offensive line, the sky is truly the limit for Dalton in 2012 and beyond.