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Andy Dalton just better than average NFL quarterback, second best in AFC North

The Bengals’ signal caller was recently ranked right in the middle of NFL quarterbacks.

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Cincinnati Bengals Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

It happens every year: The NFL’s quarterback situations are ranked from 1 to 32, and the Cincinnati Bengals are almost always slapped with a middle-of-the-road label. This time, the ranking comes from Rotoworld’s Patrick Daugherty, who bumped the Bengals’ signal caller down one spot in this year’s ranking.

15. Bengals, Andy Dalton

Last Year’s Ranking: 14

Andy Dalton once seemed destined for stop-gap duty. Instead, he’s stubbornly become the long-term answer in Cincinnati. Dalton couldn’t match his career 2015 last season, but quietly turned in his second-best campaign. This was despite the fact that A.J. Green, Tyler Eifert and Giovani Bernard combined to miss 20 games, with each player sidelined for at least six weeks. With better health likely for Dalton’s playmaking trio in 2017, he could be positioned for another career year with John Ross and Joe Mixon joining the fold. Dalton is never going to single-handedly drag teams to the playoffs. Few quarterbacks do. What he will do is make the best of what he has, and offer subtle, annual improvements. Absent a future Hall-of-Famer, there’s not much more you can ask of your quarterback. Headed into his age-30 season, Dalton should have at least another 3-4 years to get the Bengals their first playoff win since 1991.

Although written in a respectful way, it doesn’t change Dalton being ranked behind 14 other quarterback situations. For example, Ben Roethlisberger of the Steelers, Marcus Mariota of the Titans, and Cam Newton of the Panthers are all ranked ahead of Dalton.

Dalton’s 4,206 yards passing put him behind only 10 other quarterbacks in 2016. His touchdown total was down (18), but he also threw very few interceptions (8). Only Aaron Rodgers (7) and Sam Bradford (5) threw as many or more passes with fewer interceptions.

Dalton’s ranking shouldn’t be a surprise, considering he ranked only 14th after his great 2015 season. Still, the credibility of this list is up to question when a quarterback who completed 64.7 percent of his passes for 4,206 yards, 18 touchdowns, and eight interceptions is ranked just one spot above the exact middle/average NFL quarterback.

Among quarterbacks in the AFC North, Dalton ranked second, behind Roethlisberger, but ahead of Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco and the Browns quarterback group of Cody Kessler, DeShone Kizer and Brock Osweiler.

Steelers

11. Steelers, Ben Roethlisberger

Last Year’s Ranking: 5

Fresh off his fifth AFC Championship Game appearance, Ben Roethlisberger is still one of the five best quarterbacks in football. It’s just unclear how long he wants that to remain the case. Although no one would listen, Roethlisberger spent the first three months of the offseason claiming he might retire. Ex-teammate Willie Colon insisted his quarterback was “serious.” Always one for drama, 35-year-old Roethlisberger has made it clear his status should be considered “year-to-year” going forward. The Steelers took Big Ben’s Hamlet act seriously enough to spend a fourth-round pick on Josh Dobbs. Even if Roethlisberger doesn’t voluntarily hang it up, the decision could be made for him. He has injured just about every body part over the course of his 185 games. Roethlisberger has appeared in all 16 contests twice in the past eight years. Were serious injury to befall Big Ben in 2017, Dobbs and Landry Jones would represent a bottom-three quarterback situation. The future isn’t here yet in Pittsburgh, but the time to plan for it is.

There was a time when Roethlisberger was considered among the best quarterbacks in the NFL. After a rough 2016 season and talks of retirement, it seems as though ranking him No. 11 is done simply out of respect for his legacy. In 2016, Dalton threw for more yards, posted a better completion percentage, and threw less interceptions. Roethlisberger threw for more touchdowns, but it helps to have a supporting cast that wasn’t shaken to its core in the offseason. The Steelers need to figure out Roethlisberger’s replacement soon, which is a luxury the Bengals won’t need to worry about for a long time. How that equates to the Steelers having a better quarterback situation? I don’t know.

Ravens

19. Ravens, Joe Flacco

Last Year’s Ranking: 15

Joe Flacco is not elite. Lately, he’s barely even been competent. The owner of a 34:27 TD:INT ratio over his past 26 starts, Flacco’s YPA slumped to 6.42 in 2016. Only Blake Bortles, Carson Wentz and Brock Osweiler averaged fewer yards per attempt amongst qualified starters. Flacco has posted a sub-85.0 quarterback rating three of the past four seasons. His 2015 torn ACL and questionable supporting casts haven’t helped, but that’s hardly comforting heading into his age-32 campaign. Flacco’s receiver corps has gotten worse on paper, while it’s not like injury will become less of a concern for an aging statue in the pocket. Flacco isn’t exactly Tom Brady or Peyton Manning when it comes to avoiding hits. His 290 sacks taken in eight seasons are just 13 fewer than Manning took in 17. The Ravens can obviously win with Flacco, but he will remain an ancillary factor, never the driving force. They could seek an upgrade sooner than people think.

It’s hard to argue with Daugherty’s assessment of Flacco, but I am a bit more optimistic about his effectiveness as the Ravens’ starter. Flacco has rarely performed well against the Bengals, but this is the same quarterback who won Super Bowl XLVII after a great playoff campaign. I wouldn’t say that makes him a top quarterback in the league, but 19 seems low. The Ravens are probably less worried about the future of their quarterback situation than teams like the Steelers and Chargers, both teams ranked ahead of the Ravens.

Browns

30. Browns, Cody Kessler/DeShone Kizer/Brock Osweiler

Last Year’s Ranking: 31

Learning from mistakes like E.J. Manuel and Christian Ponder, the rebuilding Browns have wisely avoided forcing a quarterback solution. Although admirable and wise, it doesn’t improve the current situation. The Browns’ quarterback room consists of a pair of day-two fliers in Cody Kessler and DeShone Kizer and collateralized debt obligation Brock Osweiler. Kessler displayed base-level competence as a rookie, but struggled to make big plays. He also had an extremely difficult time staying on the field, looking rather brittle. Kizer, meanwhile, oozes confidence off the field, but lacked it on the field at Notre Dame. From touch to ball placement to game speed, he’s a work in progress. Osweiler is unlikely to be on the Week 1 roster. The Browns are doing things they’ve needed to do since 1999. Paul DePodesta’s project is right where it’s supposed to be. Unfortunately for Browns fans, it doesn’t yet include a long-term answer at quarterback.

There is no denying the Browns are a wasteland for quarterbacks. Since returning to the league in 1999, they have called 26 different quarterbacks their starter. That’s an average of 1.45 quarterbacks per season. Things don’t look much better in 2017 with Brock Osweiler among their best options. There was a time when Osweiler seemed like a solid replacement for Peyton Manning in Denver, but he left the team on bad terms and went on to play poorly for the Houston Texans last season. It’s hard to imagine him faring better with a Cleveland team that has been rebuilding for more a decade. Kizer’s long-term potential is likely the only thing keeping their quarterback situation ranked ahead of the 49ers (31) and Jets (32).