clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Putting Dalton vs Kaepernick debate to bed

Andy Dalton is having a phenomenal first half of the 2015 season. Colin Kaepernick has been benched in favor of Blaine Gabbert. Can we finally put the whole Dalton vs Kaepernick debate behind us? Yeah, it's time.

Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

Sometimes the useful nature of a debate passes by and it becomes time to bring it to an end. One such thing might by my outdated CRT television set, or my old Star Wars VHS collection. In the world of Cincinnati Bengals, the Andy Dalton vs Colin Kaepernick debate is ready to be over.

By virtue of both players being quarterbacks, and being selected back-to-back in the 2011 draft, Dalton and Kaepernick have been compared ad nauseum. With neither player seemingly establishing himself as the clear choice after their first four season, the debate has raged as to which quarterback should have been the Bengals’ selection those 55 months ago.

Heading into the 2011 draft, there were several factors shaping the future of the Bengals’ franchise.

  • By virtue of a 4-12 record, the Bengals found themselves with the fourth overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft, and a high pick in each round thereafter.
  • Carson Palmer had quit, and the Bengals had not established a veteran on their roster, forcing the Bengals to address the quarterback position at some point in the draft.
  • Without an agreement between the players union and the league, a lockout threatened to shorten the preseason, assuming one would take place at all.
  • The Bengals were installing a new offense behind new offensive coordinator Jay Gruden.

Seven candidates emerged as the top quarterback prospects in the NFL draft. Cam Newton, Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert, Christian Ponder, Dalton, Kaepernick, and Ryan Mallett were the viable options. And the smart money was on the Bengals selecting one of these prospects at a position which they had not needed to address since selecting Carson Palmer first overall in 2003.

Despite limited playing time in college, Newton emerged as the top prospect in this group, and was selected first overall by the Carolina Panthers.

None of the other prospects screamed "elite, first round talent", and thus the Bengals wisely avoided reaching for a quarterback with their pick at No. 4 overall. Instead, they opted for wide receiver A.J. Green.

After the Bengals’ selection of Green, the Titans, Jaguars and Vikings reached for Locker, Gabbert, and Ponder with their high first round picks.

Despite four quarterbacks being chosen in the first dozen picks of the draft, the Bengals held firm and waited until their second round selection, 35th overall, to visit the quarterback position.

When the time came for the Bengals to make their second round pick, they were looking at three very different quarterbacks: Dalton, Kaepernick, and Mallett.

Dalton had a high football IQ, and won big games in college, defeating highly favored Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl as a Frogged Horn out of TCU. He had good enough mobility, and was a solid passer except on deep balls, where his accuracy waned.

Mallett was the big armed statue, with impressive size, but limited mobility. He looked the part, could make all the throws, and came from a solid college program, University of Arkansas.

The wild card was Kaepernick. He was a very athletic boom or bust project coming out of the University of Nevada. He was more of a runner who threw the ball than a ready-for-the-NFL quarterback.

Needing a quarterback who could step in and play from day one, learning an offense quickly, the Bengals opted for Andy Dalton. He had the lowest perceived ceiling, but what was more important, he had the highest floor of the trio.

After the 2011 season...

The debate between which quarterback was the better choice did not exist. Dalton was a surprise Pro-Bowl selection who threw for nearly 3,400 yards and 20 touchdowns, while Kaepernick only attempted five passes.

After the 2012 season...

The debate began to spring up. Dalton had an even better season with 3,669 yards and 27 touchdowns. But like the year before, had a miserable playoff game. Meanwhile, Kaepernick replaced Alex Smith midseason, and led the 49ers all the way to the Super Bowl. With Kaepernick’s upside, and post-season success, the debate was born.

After the 2013 season...

Despite Dalton’s numbers improving yet again, the debate was in full force. Dalton threw for 4,293 yards and 33 touchdowns. But again failed in the first round of the playoffs. Kaepernick did not reach these levels throwing the ball, but again had post-season success, reaching the NFC Championship game.

After the 2014 season...

Dalton’s passing numbers regressed badly in 2014. His yards dropped, his touchdown passes dropped, and his interception rate got worse. And more importantly, the Bengals again lost in the first round of the playoffs. Like Dalton, Kaepernick also regressed, but not as badly. His 49ers missed the playoffs, and his efficiency got worse. Although he was much better than Dalton at not throwing interceptions, and still owned a much better post-season record.

The 2015 season...

Midway through the 2015 season, the debate between Dalton and Kaepernick seems to have finally been put to bed.

Dalton has emerged with elite numbers, throwing 18 touchdown passes to only four interceptions, and completing over 67 percent of his passes. His quarterback rating is also an impressive 111.0, and the Bengals have reached a franchise best 8-0 start.

For as great as Dalton has been, Kaepernick has gone the opposite direction. His completion percentage is down. His yards per game is down. His touchdowns are way down. And his quarterback rating has plummeted to 78.8. In a pass-happy NFL, with rules in place making the passing game "easier", Kaepernick is laboring to move the 49ers' offense. Things have gotten so bad, that this week, Kaepernick is being benched in favor of a fellow 2011 draftee Gabbert.

Dalton’s ascending play, coupled with Kaepernick’s regression seems to have finally brought the debate to an end. No longer are Bengals’ fans lamenting the Dalton draft selection over Kaepernick. And the requests to bench Dalton in favor of AJ McCarron have vanished, too, or at least they should.

After four and a half seasons, Dalton has emerged as arguably the best quarterback in the 2011 NFL draft.

Dalton and Newton have established themselves as the two best quarterbacks in that draft class by a wide margin. Between the two of them, Dalton has the better passing numbers, with a higher completion percentage, more passing yards, and more passing touchdowns. Although Newton’s high number of rushing yards and rushing touchdowns, brings the total yardage and total touchdowns to a more even standing.