Cincinnati Bengals' second-year quarterback Andy Dalton is beginning to receive high praise from most members of the media, the most recent being ESPN's Ron Jaworski, Tim Hasselbeck and Marcellus Wiley.
The reasoning behind Jaworski's claim is that he believes Dalton possesses excellent anticipation and will benefit mightily from being in offensive coordinator Jay Gruden's scheme for another year. Jaws' evaluation and statistics backed up that claim on ESPN (h/t Bengals.com):
“He does have some arm strength limitations, but he compensates very well with his anticipation and his accuracy. That was particularly evident in the red zone. And that is an absolutely critical measure of a quarterback. The numbers were exceptional: 15 touchdowns, no interceptions. Dalton was very effective in the boot-action pass game."
Dalton's redzone numbers for a rookie are staggering. To not turn the ball over once in 17 games is something that cannot simply be taught. That statistic alone is largely responsible for the Bengals' offensive success last year. Jaws continued to praise Dalton, saying:
“Anticipation is an essential attribute to play at a high level. It is more important if you are not a power thrower,” he said. “Dalton was an outstanding anticipation passer. … What must supplement anticipation is pinpoint ball location. Dalton was consistently accurate in the short to intermediate areas. He put the ball right in his receiver’s hands."
For a quarterback like Dalton who is said by some to lack the necessary arm strength to play at the next level, anticipation is the most critical factor in whether he can thrive in the NFL for an extended amount of time.
However, the most jaw-dropping praise for Dalton came after Jaws gave his analysis via Marcellus Wiley, who on NFL Live compared Dalton to a young Drew Brees (h/t Bengals.com):
“This sounds like déjà vu for me, because in 2001, I was a San Diego Charger when we drafted Drew Brees in the second round,” said Wiley. “He came in with the same attributes – he was accurate, he had great anticipation, but he had some arm strength limitations. It sounds the same when you hear about Andy Dalton. But when you watch the film, he reminds me of Drew Brees except that he’s already accelerated the learning curve because he had a better rookie season than I saw out of Drew Brees. If you look at Drew Brees now – where can Andy Dalton go and what can he become as a quarterback? I think this is a Super Bowl-bound quarterback one day. He can lead them to the promised land.”
Wiley is accurate at least statistically in his comparison. Dalton's campaign in 2011 was eerily similar to Brees' 2002 season, his first full season as a starter:
Of course we all know that Brees went on to win a Super Bowl with the New Orleans Saints and last season broke records by throwing for 5,476 yards and 46 touchdowns with an 110.6 rating.
None of this is to say that Dalton is on his way to matching or even coming close to Brees' numbers, but Wiley acutely points out that Dalton is on the right path thus far.
A lot of Dalton's future success and ability to lead Cincinnati to a championship hinges on the players around him. His offensive line is currently a work in progress, but he has some outstanding receiving weapons. Wide receiver A.J. Green has a chance to make it to the top 10 at his position as well, and Jordan Shipley and tight end Jermaine Gresham will play a large part in keeping Dalton's redzone statistics pristine.
A better rushing attack behind Dalton would help matters, but the committee in place fits well with the current West Coast offensive scheme Gruden is implementing. BenJarvus Green-Ellis is a nice power runner, and Bernard Scott is a nice change of pace back while Brian Leonard can do it all and is reliable in critical situations.
Dalton has also shown a veteran leadership quality that most rookies do not possess this early in their careers. He was regularly seen giving pep talks on the side lines and correcting the mistakes of other veterans on the team.
While he may not be a quarterback like Brees that can carry a team on his shoulders to a Super Bowl on his own just yet, Dalton could be well on his way. Thanks to an offensive scheme that perfectly suits his skill set, legitimate weapons around him and a stunningly fast progression and adaption to the NFL game, being named a Top 10 quarterback and compared to Drew Brees suddenly does not seem that outlandish for Andy Dalton.