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Why Andy Dalton is among the NFL’s best at vertical lead passes

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Pro Football Focus gives Dalton high grades on a few specific throws.

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NFL: Detroit Lions at Cincinnati Bengals David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

Andy Dalton’s 2017 wasn’t exactly anything to write home about. He finished the year ranked 17th in passing yards (3,320), 10th in passing touchdowns (25) and 18th in passer rating (86.6).

Despite an average year, Pro Football Focus sees some areas in which Dalton is among the league’s best when it comes to accuracy on specific throw types.

PFF’s new accuracy charting is used to grade how accurate a quarterback is when it comes to throwing a pass that is well positioned for his wide receiver. In that grading, Dalton was seen as the most accurate quarterback in the league on vertical lead passes, meaning on passes in which he was leading his receiver farther down the field.

PFF gave Dalton an accuracy rating of 57.1 percent, and an accuracy-plus rating of 36.7 percent, both of which were tops in the NFL. He placed ahead of Eli Manning, Cam Newton, Matt Ryan and Carson Wentz, who rounded out the top five in accuracy. He also placed ahead of Wentz, Drew Brees, Jared Goff and Carson Palmer in accuracy-plus. PFF’s Steve Palazzolo called Dalton “one of the best seam throwers in the NFL” when talking about the rankings.

Dalton also placed in the top five in PFF’s accuracy rating for stick passes. Dalton had an accuracy percentage of 74.5 on stick throws, which put him in fifth place. Ahead of him were Jimmy Garoppolo, Wentz, Blaine Gabbert and Ryan.

Dalton’s success in these throw types might explain why he throws to outside receivers heavily. Another PFF post that looks at who each quarterback targets shows that Dalton throws to outside receivers more frequently than most NFL QBs.

The charting has him fourth in the league pass targets to outside receivers (percentage-wise). The Bengals QB has attempted 3,280 passes in his seven years, with 1,398 of them being to outside receivers, making up 42.6 percent of his passes. That puts Dalton fourth in the NFL in outside pass attempts, behind Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning and Jameis Winston. Rounding out the top five behind Dalton is Ryan.

Another easy reason to point to for Dalton throwing outside is that he’s had A.J. Green on the outside to pass to his whole career.

Dalton’s ability to throw to the outside and to throw deep lead passes is something Cincinnati should take advantage of this season. Not just by continuing to make Green the top target, but also by getting John Ross involved with his speed down the field, now that he’s healthy.