Marvin Lewis and company had apparently planned it that way.
I guess he thought picking Dalton was important. And so it has proven to be.
After starting all four years of his tenure at TCU, Dalton had an impressive senior season with 66.1 percent of passes completed for 2,857 yards, 27 TDs and six INTs. He was the Mountain West Offensive Player of the Year for his last two college seasons. During his collegiate career, Dalton threw 71 TD passes and only 30 INTs.
But not all draft prognosticators were as enthusiastic as Cincy’s head coach about the newly nicknamed Red Rifle. Yes, that includes me in my NFL draft Preview:
“Andy Dalton…is climbing up the draft boards in these last few weeks. He improved dramatically his last college year, is mobile, has starting experience and is accurate. He is one of those guys who could be a second or third-rounder, but who starts one day. However, I saw him doing a whiteboard session with Steve Mariucci and he completely missed the “touchdown or checkdown” concept."
I wasn’t alone in this opinion. Sports Illustrated correctly projected Mr. Dalton into the second round, noting that he “does not always sense the rush. Does not always throw the ball with proper footwork. Struggles with accuracy on deep throws. Needs to put a lot of effort into his motion to get extra velocity on the ball.” They decided that he might become a serviceable “game manager.” One day.
Pro Football Weekly’s 2011 Draft Guide* concluded that the redhead was only an average athlete with a “mechanical” throwing style that telegraphed his passing intentions. They ranked him ninth in the QB class.
This put him behind not only the usual suspects but also lower than Ricky Stanzi (who was so impressive as a backup in Kansas City that the Chiefs just hired Kyle Orton), the Niners’ Colin Kaepernick and Nathan Enderle (newly promoted to second-string behind Caleb Hanie).
They did acknowledge that Andy’s “intelligence and hard work might get him to overcome his physical limitations. He might become a decent backup in a West Coast system.” Really?
No one who watched Mr. Dalton at the Combine came away with the opinion that he was an incredible athlete. His 40-yard-dash time was just a shade under five seconds. Not exactly going to challenge any speed records.
USA Today’s NFL Draft Preview* dubbed Dalton “The Best of the Rest” and put him at seventh in QB value, anticipating him as a fifth- or sixth-rounder.
Paradoxically, while all draft specialists praised Dalton’s timing, accuracy, release and intelligence—they also predicted that he would have great difficulty adjusting to the professional system and learning to read defenses and go through progressions.
Every critic agreed that Dalton’s footwork needed a lot of work and that his accuracy suffered on deep throws.
There remain varying opinions on his arm strength. The general consensus at draft-time was that he had a B-level arm, contributing to less accuracy on the long balls. But no one went so far as to make him the new Chad Pennington.
Even last spring he was universally heralded as a great leader. But, then all pundits went on to say that he was at most a serviceable game manager who couldn’t bring a team to victory without a lot of team help.
John Clayton summed up the general view in August when he ranked Dalton No. 33 (out of a possible 32) among NFL QBs:
"Carson Palmer gave his heart, soul and body to make the Bengals a winning franchise. After two playoff losses and years of enduring frustration, Palmer gave up. Now it's Dalton's turn to try to do the same with a smaller body and not as strong an arm."
However, without exception, every bit of analysis that I either heard before the draft or found for this article praised Dalton’s toughness, leadership and accuracy. I’m thinking durability is a big plus in a division where you play Pittsburgh and Baltimore twice a year.
Lindy’s Sports’ Draft Guide* designated No. 14 as having the prototypical setup and release. They also observed that he “does most of the little things right” and admitted that “he could be a developmental starter, he’s so smart.”
Mr. Dalton scored a 29 on the Wonderlic, by the way. Suzy Kolber, on NFL 32, reported that sources told her Dalton “had absorbed the entire playbook.”
Dalton's poise, work ethic, film study and overall intangibles have likewise never been questioned. Even when noting all of his shortcomings, most draft guides found plenty to praise.
Sports Illustrated led off their list of positives with:
"Tough high-percentage passer with a terrific feel for the position. Patient in the pocket, surveys the field…remains poised as the pocket collapses around him, makes good decisions…has a quick release…He effectively leads the offense."
It’s that “leading the offense” part that has come to fruition thus far in Dalton’s professional career. Cincinnati’s rookie QB has thrown 15 touchdown passes in his first ten NFL games. That feat has been accomplished twice before—by Dan Marino and Peyton Manning. Come on, that's impressive.
While Dalton will never be mistaken for Young (either of them) or Michael Vick in the running department, every breakdown credited his mobile ability to keep plays alive.
Dalton gave a tremendous illustration of this talent in the Cleveland game when he pulled the ball down on a completely busted play, dashed towards the sidelines and then executed a pretty textbook slide, ending up with five positive yards.
Jon Gruden called that “functional mobility” when he was awarding Dalton a mid-season grade of “A” on ESPN. That whole progression/checkdown thing is coming along just fine, according to Jon. Gruden also praised the Cincy signal-caller as being a fast-learner who is correcting mistakes every week.
As for me, I wasn’t sure that Dalton could handle NFL life in the Rust Belt and opened my Draft Review with:
"Out with Carson and OchoCinco and in with Andy Dalton and A.J. Green. Nothing like coming into the National Football League on one of the three worst teams, being thrown into the fire from the very first day of a very short preseason and then being expected to literally replace one of the better QB/WR tandems of the last decade (no, not recently, but a few years ago)."
As it turns out, NFL analysts are universally eating their/our words as the season marches on.
Cincinnati’s Nick Dudukovich wrote on Sept. 20, 2011, “By this point, I already figured Dalton would be a broken man, but he’s been anything but.”
In Week 3, Brad Evans of Yahoo Sports stated, "Cool, calm and collected in his first two games, Dalton has shown the poise of a 10-year veteran executing the Bengals’ offense smoothly."
Check it out. The program is actually a discussion of the relative unimportance of winning to the business success of the NFL. They compared Cam Newton's star quality to Dalton's more pedestrian, but more victorious, record.
Unfortunately, the only thing that anyone seems to remember about the dialogue is that Shira Ovide (apparently a Bengals' fan) jokingly referred to Dalton as her future husband. Come on, people.
Ironically, it was the two losses to Baltimore and Pittsburgh that have truly cemented Dalton’s position as a legitimate NFL passer.
Facing yet another good defense against Cleveland in Week 12 (the Browns had the top passing D in the league), Dalton led a much-needed scoring drive before the half composed of three big plays. He then brought the Bengals out of halftime with another one to keep the game close.
Even those, like Scott Pianowski at Yahoo Sports, not completely sold on the young quarterback have to admit, "Dalton might develop into a star someday as he and Green mature, but this sort of outing shows us that Dalton is going to be damn good no matter who he's playing with."
Fantasyland has actually been forced to acknowledge the young passer. CBS Fantasy is now calling him “a promising rookie.” In imaginary football where the only thing that matters in numbers, I guess that counts for praise.
Coming in to Week 12, No. 14 had completed almost 60 percent of his passes, with 6.74 yards per attempt, one 84-yard completion, 15 TDs and 12 INTs. He had 32 completions over 20 yards and seven over 40 yards. His QB rating was almost 80.
And this Sunday Andy Dalton did it again. He ended the game with 270 yards and one TD.
Nothing spectacular, you say. Perhaps not, but he led yet another fourth-quarter comeback, highlighted by a huge completion to Green with a minute on the clock.
Yes, Dalton has Green and Jermaine Gresham catching the passes (with some noble support from WRs Jerome Simpson, Andre Caldwell and newcomer Andrew Hawkins). And he has a tremendous running back in Cedric Benson. Plus, that defense is not to be dismissed.
Dalton may not be getting the drama out of his fourth-quarter comebacks that Tim Tebow is. And his deep balls still have accuracy issues. But the team is winning and I don’t hear the fans complaining, no matter what the money people at The Wall Street Journal say.
The Red Rifle has his team standing 7-4 at the end of Week 11 and in good position to compete for a Wild Card. In Cincinnati. The Bengals.
Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden and the Cincy fans don’t need to be convinced. Jay said that Andy Dalton told him at the Combine, “I’m ready to start now, let’s go.”
Evidently he was right.
* Print periodicals published March, 2011