The Cincinnati Bengals currently have three quarterbacks on their roster. They have seventh-year starter Andy Dalton (who is not having one of his better seasons), A.J. McCarron (who was almost a member of the Browns except that organization is still learning how to use something called email), and Jeff Driskel (who is currently on injured reserve but eligible to return in Week 9). When Week 9 arrives, the Bengals need to make an important decision. Driskel will be eligible to return from IR, and the team will need to either bring him back and make him the third quarterback on their 53-man roster, or keep him on IR and effectively end his 2017 season.
We look at some reasons why the Bengals should activate Driskel and why the Bengals should place him on season-ending IR.
Reasons why the Bengals should keep Driskel on IR
Driskel is a third-string quarterback, and a third-string quarterback is never going to get playing time, so why waste the roster spot? In the Andy Dalton era, a third-string quarterback has never taken a snap for the Bengals, and even the second string quarterbacks have only played sparingly, and in the rarest of circumstances. The roster spot should be used for a player who can contribute to the team’s success by being on the field.
Putting somebody like Driskel in a game is a move that, just like when teams play young quarterbacks, could help the team in the future, but at the expense of the present. With Marvin Lewis being a lame duck coach, he is not motivated to help the Bengals’ future at the expense of his chances to build his success and resume in the present.
Even if Lewis knew he was returning as the team’s head coach in 2018, he wouldn’t play Driskel. He has never been one to put rookies and young players in the game to help develop them for the future. He’s more inclined to stick with his veterans and play for the now. So why activate a player who the head coach will not put into a game?
Driskel may not be a great NFL prospect. In the 2016 NFL Draft, Driskel was the 14th of 15 quarterbacks drafted, taken near the end of the draft, in the sixth round. If he was considered a better prospect, he would have been drafted higher, and wouldn’t have been let go after training camp in 2016 by a quarterback-starved team like the San Francisco 49ers. So why activate a player who may not even have NFL ability?
Reasons why the Bengals should activate Driskel for Week 9
At 3-4, the Bengals season isn’t lost just yet but is trending that direction. At some point, the team will need to decide that they need to live to fight another day, instead of pushing for a pointless 7-9 or 8-8 type of season. When playoffs are out of the picture, that is the perfect time for a team to look to the future, and give plenty of playing time to their younger, unproven players, to see what they can do, and to further develop them. We see this happen in baseball all the time. The Bengals’ neighbors, the Cincinnati Reds are currently doing this, and a pair of recent World Series champions, the Houston Astros and Kansas City Royals did this – played their younger players to develop them for future success.
With the possibility of a new head coach taking over next season (dare fans dream?), A.J. McCarron possibly a free agent after this season, and the Bengals holding an easy out of Dalton’s contract after this season (would only take a $2.3M cap hit if they release him before June 1), it is possible that the Bengals starting quarterback for the 2018 season may not have ever taken an NFL regular season snap with the Bengals. The starting quarterback spot could become an open battle next year, so this would be the perfect opportunity to see if Driskel has a role in that battle.
The fact that the Bengals were willing to trade A.J. McCarron should tell us that the Bengals were set to make Driskel the backup to Dalton for the remainder of the season. So clearly the team feels he is capable enough to play in the NFL. They obviously felt highly enough about him to keep him on their 53-man roster for the duration of the 2016 NFL season.
With so little NFL video on Driskel available, I went back to his college video to scout him a little. What I saw is a player who was not NFL ready when he was drafted, but had many of the traits that make a successful quarterback in the NFL.
In the videos I’ve watched, he played almost exclusively out of the shotgun at Florida and Louisiana Tech and ran plenty of read-option plays. So he was not entering the league from a "pro-style" offense, and could benefit from time to adjust. Fortunately, he has received this time over the past one and a half seasons with the Bengals.
Some positives include his good fundamentals. He has a quick, compact release, and is fairly accurate on short and intermediate passes. He threw a lot of good passes, especially ones where only his receiver could get them. He also has the idea size, and possesses very good straight-line speed for a quarterback (4.54 time in the 40-yard dash at the combine). When pressured in the pocket, he has the ability to elude the rush and use that speed in games to run for first downs. He’s not a naturally elusive runner (ala Joe Mixon), but can escape pressure and run when needed – which are both positive attributes given the current state of the Bengals offensive line.
The negatives would be his lack of overwhelming college production. Although while at Florida, he seemed to suffer thru a lot of dropped passes and that team went thru a dumpster fire of a situation with the coaching. He throws a nice deep ball, but the accuracy isn’t always there. On deep routes, he often gets the ball to the receiver, but will sometimes be just a tick off when trying to hit them in stride. Another issue was that he could be inaccurate when on the move. Unlike Dalton, Driskel can avoid the rush and extend the play, but also had a tendency to hastily push a poor pass to the receiver.
You know what you have with Dalton. He’s not going to improve, and hopefully not decline too precipitously. But you don’t know what you have with Driskel. He has the tools to be better than Dalton, and doesn’t seem to be a quarterback who needs to be surrounded by great talent all round him to be successful. But then again, Driskel could end up being a lot worse. Basically, at this point, we really don’t know. If the Bengals aren’t in serious playoff contention, I’d argue the second part of the 2017 season is the perfect time to put Driskel on the field and see what he can do.