Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton has officially reached Rodney Dangerfield-ian levels when it comes to the national media's coverage of his play. Rarely has a player who has been a positive role model in the community, made Pro Bowls for a smaller market team and has known nothing but the postseason as a pro been made into such a lightning rod of polarizing discussion.
Yet, we're heading into the 2016 season and more NFL quarterback rankings have been released, with many wondering where Dalton lands on an arbitrary list for the fifth consecutive year. CBS's Jason La Canfora recently made a list with seven tiers of quarterbacks, with rankings of each signal-caller, ranging from "Bona fide Franchise Quarterbacks" to "The Verdict is out".
And true to some pundits' use of "The Andy Dalton Line" marking those who are viable NFL quarterbacks against those who are not, La Canfora has Dalton in his fourth tier out of seven, titled "The guys that can be winning quarterbacks", splitting the league's signal-callers right down the middle with a No. 16 ranking on the list.
His description of the tier of quarterbacks, including Dalton, Blake Bortles, Kirk Cousins, Matt Ryan, Matthew Stafford and Teddy Bridgewater is as follows:
These are very solid players, though not as dynamic as the top tiers. They can lead your team into the postseason any given year, but they also can be very erratic and by and large have suffered on the bigger stages. Could they become part of that second-best tier if they put it all together? Sure. But I can't say it's probable that happens.
They have somewhat limited ceilings based on certain traits (too many picks, limited athletic prowess, injury-prone). You can win with them, and you can certainly do worse than them, and I went back and forth between five and eight men in this category as well, settling on six. I tried in general to make this group skew with guys in their late 20s/early 30s, and then there is one exception to that group who I felt like in the end had to go here.
For Dalton, La Canfora uses the ever-popular winless playoff record and other poor primetime performances as his barometer for the placement of the Bengals' quarterback on his list.
Lack of anything close to success in truly big games is damning with me. He has been surrounded by an abundance of talent, but that may be dipping some now. His pay-as-you-go contract speaks to his standing in the league.
The "dip" in talent is referring not only to the loss of wide receivers Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu in free agency, but also the shrinking window of the team's chances to win a championship, as well as the decline of running back Jeremy Hill in 2015. However, the team has done what it could to prop open said championship window with receiver replacements in free agency and the draft, coupled with quality re-signings and finally deciding to rely on their high picks over the past couple of seasons for bigger roles in 2016.
All of the five quarterbacks in La Canfora's top-tier have been to Super Bowls (Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger, Russell Wilson and Cam Newton), with all but Newton winning the big game, so winning is, and rightfully so, the barometer in which quarterbacks are being judged here. But, adding insult to Bengals fans' injury is Carson Palmer's ranking above Dalton in La Canfora's list and in a higher tier, even though his own playoff resume also leaves a lot to be desired.
So, now we're back to the discussion that has ensued since the conclusion of Dalton's rookie season: does he belong ranked in the middle of NFL quarterbacks, particularly after a banner year in 2015?
In 2013, Dalton set single-season franchise records for passing touchdowns (33) and passing yards (4,293) en route to an 11-5 record. Yet, it's in two important, yet often-overlooked statistical categories where Dalton greatly improved in 2015: passer rating and completion percentage. Dalton set career-highs in both last season, despite missing four games (including the Wild Card loss), with a 66.1 percent completion rate, which was 4.2 percent higher than 2013; while a 106.3 rating was 17.5 points higher than his previous career-best--also set in 2013. Did we mention he tied a franchise-best in leading his team to 12 regular-season wins last year?
Other figures to note:
- 10/15: The number of quarterbacks Dalton has beaten in his career who were ranked ahead of him on La Canfora's list.
- 7/15: The number of quarterbacks selected in the first round ranked ahead of Dalton on La Canfora's list.
- 6/15: The number of quarterbacks who were ranked ahead of Dalton on La Canfora's list who made the postseason in 2015.
- 5-2: The win-loss record of Dalton and the Bengals against the quarterbacks ranked ahead of him on La Canfora's list in 2015*. (*Note: Figures vary because of injuries to Dalton and others.)
Let's also talk intangibles, shall we? After an offseason where Dalton was mired in the hype surrounding backup AJ McCarron, the embattled starter rebounded with authority. This isn't to discredit McCarron, who stepped in admirably for Dalton after he broke his thumb, but almost everyone thought Dalton would cower in even more pressure last offseason, yet he rose to the occasion. He assumed a more assertive leadership role and pushed the offense to be better--especially in the wake of an inconsistent running game.
But, as is the story of Dalton's NFL career, he faces more adversity in 2016, causing those like La Canfora to assume his 2015 performance was simply a flash-in-the-pan. Aside from Jones and Sanu leaving, the architect of his renaissance, Hue Jackson, left for Cleveland to try and emulate the rebirth he was part of under Marvin Lewis in Cincinnati. Even after a career year in 2015, Dalton still has much to prove in 2016 because of coaching and roster turnover as well as the desire for the Bengals to finally win a playoff game. La Canfora's ranking of the Bengals' quarterback corroborates the notion.
Unfortunately, regardless of the arguments supporting Dalton's resume, his career is full of "buts" and "what ifs". Whether it's due to his own poor play, the play of those around him in big moments, or his 2015 injury runing the opportunity to change the narrative of his career, this debate apparently will continue to ensue every offseason.