Now for another installment of our Fantasy Stock Watch periodical. This series takes a look at players who either exceeded their anticipated contributions this year, or failed to live up to them and what we can expect come 2014. The biggest concern: you want to draft based on value, rather than paying for stats that will be hard to repeat and/or paying an expectant price for development that may not come.
Andy Dalton, QB, Cincinnati Bengals
2013 ADP: 112 (QB15)
2013 Position Rank: QB5 (46 Overall)
2013 Expectations: Andy Dalton
Andy Dalton entered 2013 with the requisite pieces in place to make a leap in production. With an elite level WR1 in A.J. Green, a strong pass catching Tight End (Jermaine Gresham, joined by draft pick Tyler Eifert) and a strong run game, including the first RB taken in the 2013 entry draft, Giovani Bernard who would add valued yards as a receiver, we were expecting a jump from Dalton.
After all, his 2012 sophomore numbers were quite strong. His 27 touchdown campaign saw progression over his rookie numbers in each of the major categories (improving in completion percentage, TDs, yards, yards per attempt while also posting more interceptions year-over-year).
There were those who questioned whether Dalton was truly a franchise QB at the start of the season, but most expected him to post better raw numbers this year, regardless.
Still, he wasn’t really in the QB1 conversation. He was our consensus QB16 with Andrew Reid’s 15 rank sitting as the high mark which is pretty consistent with the industry opinion.
2013 Results: Andy Dalton
Let’s start with me getting something off my chest: I have no specific affinity for Dalton, but I’m amazed at how quickly the narrative changed after his – admittedly atrocious – playoff loss to the Chargers. I’ve read in many places – including a series of a bit over the top scathing comments on Pro Football Talk – comments that amount to “the Bengals must move on from Dalton”. I get it, that game was ugly, but we’re talking about a QB who has improved in each of his first three seasons in the league, leading Cincinnati to the playoffs in each of those years, including their first division crown since 2009. He needs to learn to win in the playoffs, but the Red Rocket is QB you can win with.
Fantasy owners should feel the same, too. After all, Dalton finished as the fifth most useful QB in season-long fantasy formats (as long as your league counted those -9 receiving yards for Chargers QB Philip Rivers) and threw for 33 touchdowns (adding two on the ground), good for the third most in the league. Along the way Dalton completed nearly 62% of his passes for nearly 4300 yards.
He was uneven, though. His 20 interceptions trailed just four others – he posted just five games without an interception and had five with more than one – and the 26 year old pivot posted negative ratings (per Pro Football Focus) in eight of his 16 regular season games. 31 of his 33 passing scores came in 11 multi score games, meaning that in five additional games he was held to just two touchdowns. With the fourth lowest sack rate (by percentage of dropbacks) in the league, Dalton benefited from strong line play but also kept himself out of trouble – and it was a good thing, he was the league’s least accurate full season starter when under pressure, completing just 38.5% of his passes.
As an owner, you loved the overall return on investment that you got with Dalton, but you hated the games where ‘bad Andy’ showed up. When he was good, he was great. When he was bad, he was awful and there was little in between.
2014 Outlook: Andy Dalton
With Thursday’s news that Jay Gruden has agreed to become the head coach of Washington, and the Bengals moved quickly to fill the void with in-house candidate Hue Jackson, the offense could look different next season. The talented offensive core remains in place though, and with the assumption that Cincinnati will aim to strengthen the WR2 position (in combination, Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu did well enough to fill this role this season, but neither was a consistent enough complement to Green), there will be no shortage of options for Dalton in the passing game.
This offseason/next year’s NFL Regular Season will be Dalton’s first without the Offensive Coordinator who has helped him develop. Jackson is well liked, and generally well regarded as an offensive mind, but he does represent a change for a QB who is still in need of some coaching. The OC position in a place like Cincinnati is particularly influential given Marvin Lewis‘ role as a defensive minded head coach. With Jackson’s ascension to the role, you can expect a similar offense but there is no guarantee of similar results – any minor tweaking of the system likely takes away time from a focus on overall development. As far as history goes, Jackson led offenses in Washington and Atlanta (2003 and 2007 respectively) to top 14 finishes in terms of passing offense, and while his Raiders finished 24 and 22 in the category during his tenure as OC/Head Coach, they didn’t have a lot to work with at the position (Jason Campbell and a straight from the sofa Carson Palmer). The passing game outlook isn’t downgraded under Jackson per se, and for his part the new coordinator believes in Dalton’s upside.
Further, If Giovani Bernard takes an increasing amount of the snaps (he was on the field for a total of 56.1% of Cincinnati’s plays this season, compared to 39.3% for BenJarvus Green-Ellis) he should see more receptions and his dynamic skill set as a receiver will only work to inflate Dalton’s passing numbers.
In short, I’d expect more of the same from Dalton next year. Games where – either buoyed by the talent around him, or by his own strengths as a passer – he looks like an elite fantasy option, and also those where he looks totally lost as he did this past Sunday in the Wild Card round. I expect him to continue his growth, but consistency is a hard trait to teach.
If you can get Dalton at a reasonable price, another top 10 campaign is well within reach, but it is hard to envision him moving any higher up the QB top 5 even if everything breaks just right for him. Knowing that, and that his 2013 finish will likely increase his draft day cost next year, I’m likely to avoid him for a more consistent option.