Quarterback is undoubtedly the most important position on the football field. When the Bengals selected Andy Dalton out of the second round in the 2011 Draft, it was unknown what kind of future he would have. Initially, the pundits thought that the team would be set back quite a while, but Dalton surprised us all and took the Bengals to an improbable playoff berth in his rookie year.
A year later, armed with some new weapons on offense, Bengals fans expected some big things from Dalton. At first glance, he didn't disappoint. We look at Dalton's performance and the outlook going forward in this position group.
Andy Dalton, starter: We've talked about this quite a bit recently, namely the perception of his regression and the argument of a "franchise quarterback", so we're not going to continue to regurgitate the same debate over and over again at length. We know about Dalton's poor ProFootballFocus score on third down and the fact that he's performed poorly in his two postseason performances. For those shortcomings, there's also the side that defends Dalton, asking to give him as many weapons as possible to be successful and hide those shortcomings.
The fact remains that Dalton broke led the team towards breaking a dubious 30-year streak in which the team hadn't made the playoffs in back-to-back seasons and improved in almost every personal statistical category. He threw for 3,669 yards, 27 touchdowns and 16 interceptions and his 31 total touchdowns in 2012 marked an improvement of ten from the prior year. Dalton's 19-13 regular season record as a starter has him ahead former Bengals greats Ken Anderson, Boomer Esiason, and Carson Palmer.
As important as year two was for Dalton, year three will be the key in deciphering where this franchise will be heading. If the continued personal statistical improvement couples with improvement on third down and overall consistency, Dalton could have the Bengals knocking on the door of the Super Bowl. However, if we've seen the best there is from Dalton, we could be seeing more one-and-done's in the playoffs or worse performances.
Bruce Gradkowski, backup: A result of the pleasant surprise of Dalton's performance over the past two seasons, Gradkowski has barely had any playing time. He was hand-picked by offensive coordinator Jay Gruden because of their mutual familiarity. None of us figured in 2011 that Dalton would have kept Gradkowski on the bench, but he's done just that.
Gradkowski played one half in relief of Dalton in 2011 after an injury (which was a win versus the Browns), and the rest of his time has come from mop-up duty whether the Bengals were on the good or bad side of the situation. In two games this year, against the Philadelphia Eagles and Baltimore Ravens, respectively, Gradkowski posted 65 yards passing and a 64.6 quarterback rating. Though he's familiar with Gruden's system, some fans wonder if there's a more capable option out there to back up Dalton and maybe even push him, should he stumble. Gradkowski is an impending free agent in 2013 and we're not sure if the team will bring him back or not.
Zac Robinson, Practice Squad: In 2011, the Bengals completely reloaded their quarterback position. Though they had Dalton and Gradkowski, the team liked what they saw from Robinson when he quarterbacked the Lions in a preseason match-up. Cincinnati snagged up Robinson off of waivers after final cuts and he's bee residing on the Practice Squad for the past two seasons.
It's unlikely that the Bengals will keep more than two quarterbacks on the active game day roster and we don't know if Robinson is the answer as the backup for this team. He was a solid college quarterback and has good athleticism, but handing him the backup role could be risky.
2013 Outlook: Dalton is undoubtedly their guy next year and the hope is that he'll continue to grow. Dalton's success will not only rely on his own improvement, but the improvement around him and the influx of new talent in the offense--particularly at running back. The backup role is the biggest question mark going into 2013 and though that statement is better than most other franchises can boast, it still needs to be addressed this offseason.