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Could the Bengals draft a quarterback in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft?

With Andy Dalton signed for the next four seasons, drafting a quarterback sounds absurd, but is it?

CFP National Championship Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The Cincinnati Bengals currently have a good quarterback who is under contract for the next four seasons. They also have a solid backup who they really like, in AJ McCarron. And the team seems to like their third string quarterback, Jeff Driskel, so much that they kept him as the third quarterback on the 53-man roster for the whole season. So why in the world would they use a first round pick on a quarterback in 2017?

Andy Dalton is a good quarterback. He owns a 62.7 career completion percentage with 142 touchdowns to only 81 interceptions. He averages more than 3,700 passing yards per season, and has also helped lead the team to a great 56-35-2 record as the Bengals’ starter. And all of this was done while playing for three different offensive-coordinators in six seasons in the NFL.

Dalton is also coming into his own. Over the last two seasons, he has thrown for 43 touchdowns to only 15 interceptions, and achieved a passer rating just short of 100 during that span. He put those numbers up without Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu this year and without a great running game to aid the offense effort. Additionally, he was constantly under pressure in 2016, being sacked 41 times. And, to top it all off his elite receivers in Tyler Eifert and A.J. Green combined to miss 17 games in the last two years, while Dalton’s numbers have only improved. And he still put up solid passing numbers over the last couple of years.

Dalton also has a very team friendly deal, averaging about $16 million per season over the next four seasons. For a frugal team like the Bengals, that’s a great deal to have a quality team-player locked up at the NFL’s most important position for below market value.

So, as was posed earlier, why in the world would the Bengals use a first round pick on a quarterback in the 2017 NFL Draft?

The answer to this question is because, for as good as Dalton is, he is not an “elite” quarterback. He is not a Tom Brady or an Aaron Rodgers. He is not a quarterback who is going to go out there and continually win the big games, carrying the team on his back. Dalton is a good quarterback who can thrive in a good system with good weapons around him. But in a league driven by elite quarterbacks, Dalton, like most of the league’s quarterbacks, fail to achieve the elite status.

If you can find an elite quarterback, it is in your team’s best interest to acquire that elite quarterback, even if your team is not desperate for a quarterback, and already has a pretty good one. The Green Bay Packers did this when they selected Aaron Rodgers in 2005. They had future Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre on their roster and under contract for a few more years. The post 2005-Favre was not the elite Favre of his earlier years, but he passed for 112 touchdowns and over 18,000 yards after the team drafted Rodgers, so Favre still had the ability to play the position well. Despite having Favre on the roster and other pressing needs, the Packers decided that pursuing an elite quarterback was too important to pass up. They have obviously been rewarded for their decision with eight consecutive playoff appearances and a Super Bowl victory during Rodgers’ tenure, as well as a 90-45 regular season record, with 36,827 passing yards, and 297 passing touchdowns to only 72 interceptions.

There is no rule that says teams can only look for an elite quarterback in the draft if their current quarterback situation is abysmal. Not only did the Packers draft Rodgers with Favre on the roster, but the year before that, the Chargers drafted Philip Rivers as a top 10 pick with Drew Brees already on the roster. So there is precedent in teams trying to find an elite quarterback without having a Browns or Jets type of quarterback mess. One could even argue that the Bengals did this in 2003 when they drafted Carson Palmer, despite Jon Kitna having a decent season with the Bengals.

Are there any quarterbacks who could be elite prospects this year? Maybe. Most self-proclaimed draft experts have identified three candidate as having potential to possibly be considered elite prospects for this year’s draft:

  • DeShone Kizer (Notre Dame, 6’4”, 230 lbs)
  • Deshaun Watson (Clemson, 6’3”, 215 lbs)
  • Mitch Trubisky (UNC, 6’3”, 220 lbs)

There are still pro days and the Combine, which will give teams more insight into the draft prospects between now and April, and it may turn out that no quarterbacks in this year’s draft are considered elite. But it could also turn out that one, two, or all three of the above listed players could be considered elite.

If the Bengals grade one of these quarterbacks as elite, and he falls to them at pick No. 9, should the Bengals draft him? Is the chance at upgrading from good to great at quarterback worth missing out on a great player at another position, such as linebacker, defensive end or wide receiver?

I would argue that the value of an elite quarterback is too important to pass up. If the Bengals feel that one of these prospects is the next great young quarterback to hit the league, and if he falls to them, they should draft him. They won’t be forced to start him before he is ready, and with a very favorable contract, Dalton would easily be tradable in a league that is always desperate for quarterbacks.

Is drafting a quarterback at #9 overall a great idea, or a crazy one?