Andy Dalton getting no respect is nothing new. That’s the case in ESPN’s tiered ranking of NFL quarterbacks, where Dalton is ranked 19th overall. Tier 3 includes Dak Prescott, Joe Flacco, Carson Palmer, Marcus Mariota, Jameis Winston, Dalton, Alex Smith, Carson Wentz, Ryan Tannehill, Sam Bradford, Jay Cutler and Tyrod Taylor, in that order.
Making this ranking even more of a shot at Dalton is he was put in the Tier 3 of quarterbacks. ESPN defines a Tier 3 quarterback as a legitimate starter, but someone who needs a heavier run game and/or defense to win, while a lower-volume pass offense makes his job easier.
Dalton did pretty well in 2015 as a high-volume thrower who didn’t have the greatest of defenses. He still showed he could play at an elite level, but everyone seems to conveniently forget that.
Dalton brought up the bottom of Tier 2 last year, when he was coming off a breakout performance in 2015 as the Bengals were loaded on offense. Voters see him as a quarterback who bounces between the second and third tiers, a "win-with" quarterback more frequently than he is a "win-because-of" quarterback.
"He will have some big games, and then he will still be all over the place," an offensive coordinator said. "The thing that is going to really hurt them is losing the left tackle and the right guard. When Andy has to scramble and move sometimes, he gets jittery and he is not accurate. I still think he is a 2."
Dalton has been a winning quarterback without a dominant rushing attack, usually when Cincy was strong on defense. His failures in the postseason aren't helping his standing even though some of his struggles trace to having many of his top receiving targets unavailable because of injuries.
"Andy is a great decision-maker who is accurate and can see the field very well," a GM said. "But if the thing starts collapsing, he can't throw over the top of people effectively all the time. I think he's at his best getting the ball out quicker with a lot of clearance in front of him."
Dalton would be higher on this list if it were being done after his 2015 season, when he took his game to an MVP level. Despite not playing in the final month of this season, Dalton still threw for 25 touchdowns and 3,250 yards vs just seven interceptions, good for a career-high 106.3 passer rating. He also rushed for three scores and helped lead the Bengals to a 10-2 start, atop the AFC standings, before going down with a thumb injury.
That earned Dalton a spot on the NFL’s top 100 Players of 2016 ranking, checking in at No. 35 in 2016. However, Dalton didn’t make the list for 2017, which was just one of many offseason rankings that showed little-to-no respect for the Bengals quarterback.
While Dalton isn’t among the most elite passers, what he does excel at is reading defenses and getting the ball out quickly. That’s big for a Bengals team that had offensive line concerns early in his career, as well as last year.
That scenario very likely plays out this year with two young starting tackles protecting him, as well as a new starting right guard. It will be critical to the Bengals’ success that Dalton put guys like Jake Fisher, Trey Hopkins and Cedric Ogbuehi in the best position to win, as well as dealing with a below-average center in Russell Bodine.
However, Dalton will have an onslaught of offensive weapons to terrorize defenses and with whom he can put up monster numbers. This is shaping up to be the best skill-position group Dalton has ever been part of in the NFL. Thanks to the additions of Joe Mixon, John Ross and a healthy Tyler Eifert, Dalton is primed for a career year, or at least one as good as his 2015 campaign.
But, the offensive line issues are very real, so Dalton’s season could go either way, which is part of why he’s ranked so low in most of these preseason rankings.