Injuries again sabotaged Dalton last season, as his YPA dipped by nearly a full yard from 2015 while his TD passes marked a career low. A.J. Green, Tyler Eifert and Giovani Bernard all missed significant time, playing together just three games (Dalton's YPA in those three was 8.0). Dalton, who lost three games in 2015 to a thumb injury, hasn't played a full season with Green since 2013 when he posted career highs in yards and TDs. The Red Rifle isn't known for a strong arm, but he's accurate throwing deep (8th in completion percentage) and was one of four QBs last season without an interception on attempts of 21-plus yards (min. 20 attempts). This offseason, he worked to increase his velocity, which he might need after the Bengals drafted receiver John Ross ninth overall. Ross posted the fastest 40 time (4.22) in Combine history and gives the Bengals a deep threat to draw defensive attention from Green and help Eifert get open underneath. Second-round pick Joe Mixon should not only improve the running game but also should contribute as a skilled receiver out of the backfield. Dalton also offers value as a runner -- only Cam Newton has more rushing TDs among QBs since 2012. Improved offensive line play (41 sacks last year, seventh most) would help, but Dalton looks set for a bounce-back campaign, provided no injuries.
Poor Andy Dalton just can't catch a break. On pace for the best season of his career and with the Bengals looking like possible Super Bowl contenders, Dalton broke his thumb in Week 14 against the Steelers, ending his campaign and scuttling the team's title hopes. Before the injury, however, he showed tremendous growth, posting career highs in completion percentage and YPA while being one of three QBs in the league (Russell Wilson, Carson Palmer) to post QB ratings above 100 on both short routes (15 yards or less) and longer passes. Dalton doesn't have ideal height for a pocket passer, but he's athletic and mobile enough to avoid pressure and has the arm strength to stretch the field, and his decision making and ability to read defenses have become excellent. Dalton has some new secondary targets as free-agent Brandon LaFell and second-round pick Tyler Boyd replace Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu behind A.J. Green. Highly-regarded OC Hue Jackson left in the off-season to become head coach of the rival Browns, but Dalton's long-time QB coach Ken Zampese is stepping in as the new OC, so there shouldn't be much change in the gameplan. Assuming he can stay healthy (2015 was the first season in which he didn't play 16 games), Dalton seems poised to build on last season's performance.
Dalton saw a steep drop in production, falling from the No. 3 fantasy QB in 2013 to 18th last season. Injuries certainly played a part, with A.J. Green, Marvin Jones, Tyler Eifert and Giovani Bernard missing 37 combined games (and limited in others). But the bigger problem was, as expected, less volume under new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson, whose run-focused gameplan passed just 52.4 percent of the time (28th in NFL), compared to 57.1 percent under former OC Jay Gruden from 2011-2013. That led to a career-low attempts for Dalton, who lost 105 passes from 2013. And a career-high completion percentage couldn't make up for the loss in volume, either, as the Red Rifle's 20-yard completions dropped from 56 to 33, his 40-yard completions from 15 to seven. His 19 touchdowns were one fewer than he had as a rookie, ranking 17th in the league after he was third the year before with 33 scores. The emergence of running back Jeremy Hill ensures another season of run-first offense, but Dalton could be more productive if he improves his decision-making. His interception percentage has increased each year, peaking at 3.5 percent last season to leave him with an ugly 19:17 TD:INT ratio.
Dalton was a breakout fantasy quarterback in 2013, reaching the 3,700-yard mark for the first time while increasing his passing touchdown total from 27 to 33, so he'll probably be drafted shortly after the obvious QB1 candidates in many leagues this year. There's a pretty good chance that the 2013 season might go down as the best of Dalton's career, however, especially in fantasy terms. Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden and his pass-happy offense have gone to Washington, leaving the more run-oriented Hue Jackson in charge of the Cincinnati playcalling. In his two seasons with the Raiders (2010-2011), Jackson's offenses averaged just 507.5 pass attempts per year, whereas Dalton attempted 586 last season. Given that Dalton increased his interception percentage in each of his three years and the Bengals spent a second-round pick on Jeremy Hill, Jackson will have reason to scale back the Cincinnati passing game in 2014, and Dalton (7.0 career YPA) probably doesn't have the playmaking skill necessary to remain in QB1 territory in 12-team leagues. With a strong running game and elite wideout in A.J. Green, however, Dalton has a high floor ideal as a fantasy backup.
Dalton showed significant improvement from 2011 to 2012. His completion rate increased by more than four percentage points, helping the quarterback throw for nearly 300 more yards and seven extra touchdowns. Dalton's efficiency also improved from 6.6 to 6.9 YPA.
The Bengals also made an effort to upgrade their offense through the draft, adding tight end Tyler Eifert in the first round. He'll team with Jermaine Gresham to bolster Cincinnati’s attack over the middle of the field, hopefully taking pressure off of playmaker A.J. Green. In the second round, the Bengals drafted running back Giovani Bernard. The youngster should immediately see a significant role, giving the Bengals an instant upgrade over Benjarvus Green-Ellis. Remember, this is a team that averaged only 4.1 YPC in 2012. With greater efficiency in the running game, Dalton should have more opportunities to find Green downfield.
Plus, Dalton can give you something on the ground. He's not going to run for 50 yards a game, but the quarterback rushed for four touchdowns in 2012 and can provide an extra point or two each week with his legs.
Dalton was everything the Bengals hoped he would be, finishing his rookie year with 3,398 yards (6.6 YPA), 20 touchdowns and 13 interceptions passing while running for 152 yards and a touchdown. His poise greatly exceeded that of many veteran quarterbacks, and his fantasy value is pointed upward as the Bengals figure to give him more passing responsibilities in 2012. Wideout A.J. Green is the sort of talent who could become the best in the league, and he’s backed up by the promising trio of Jordan Shipley and rookies Mohamed Sanu (third round) and Marvin Jones (fifth round), while the tight-end tandem of Jermaine Gresham and fourth-round pick Orson Charles is highly skilled. The loss of the below-average Cedric Benson at running back is not a concern, particularly with BenJarvus Green-Ellis around to replace him.
On one hand, it's tough to see the former Mountain West star being an immediate hit in the NFL. On the other, he potentially has a favorable situation given Cincinnati's abundance of targets. Fourth overall pick A.J. Green is the most talented of the group, but Jerome Simpson, Andre Caldwell and Jordan Shipley were impressive in 2010, as well. And that's not even considering what 2010 first-round pick Jermaine Gresham might turn into at tight end. If Carson Palmer doesn't return, Dalton will have to beat out Bruce Gradkowski and Jordan Palmer for the starting job. Even if Dalton loses out to Gradkowski, the latter has only started eight games in the last two seasons, meaning that Dalton should keep him arm warm every week.