Dalton poised for big season thanks to biggest array of weapons yet
CINCINNATI (WKRC) - There are many who don't consider Andy Dalton a top 10 quarterback in the NFL, but at least by the formula of passer rating he has been the last two seasons, and he has a chance for perhaps his best season yet thanks to the vast array of weapons at his disposal.
Even before the NFL Draft was held Dalton was going to get All-Pro wide receiver A.J. Green and former Pro Bowl tight end Tyler Eifert back in the mix after they missed a combined 15 games and played in only two games together last season. Top receiving running back Giovani Bernard is also expected back at some point, too, after he missed the final six games due to torn ACL.
That still didn't deter Dalton from compiling the second highest passer rating of his career (91.8) and throwing for the second most yards of his career (4,206). That performance came a year after his best season when he had a rating of 106.2 (second in the NFL). Over the last two seasons combined his rating of 97.7 is eighth-best in the NFL, barely behind Aaron Rodgers (98.6) and ahead of Ben Roethlisberger (94.5).
Dalton has evolved into a very good quarterback and thanks to this year's draft he has a chance to evolve even more after the team took uber-fast wide receiver John Ross in the first-round and versatile running back Joe Mixon in the second round.
“I don’t think any quarterback is complaining about having more guys who can do a lot,” Dalton said Monday afternoon in his first comments to reporters since the draft.
Dalton had just completed an Organized Team Activity workout that included the rookies with the veterans for the first time, although Ross was not on hand and can't return to Paul Brown Stadium until the University of Washington graduation ceremony on June 10. Ross also hasn't been medically cleared from surgery to repair a torn labrum and won't be until training camp in July.
Still, Dalton knows what Ross and Mixon can add.
"We’re faster obviously," said Dalton. "With John Ross’ speed (he was timed in the 40-yard dash at 4.22 seconds at the NFL Combine) that will be a big factor. Teams will have to know where he is because of that speed. It may level out some of these safeties who are tilting toward A.J. Now when you’ve got a guy who can run like he can you’ve got a big threat going deep. I think that’s one of the big things we’ll have is speed on the field. We’ve got the fastest guy in the NFL, so obviously that’s a good thing to have. I’m anxious to see what that speed feels like when he can get around and start doing stuff.”
He got his first chance to do some things with Mixon on Monday, and says Mixon's versatility as a runner and a receiver should be a big help. Jeremy Hill is primarily used as a runner when he's in the game and Bernard is considered more of a receiving threat.
"From what I saw in college and one of the big reasons we brought him in is because he can do both," said Dalton. "One of the things that helps with a guy that is versatile is you’re not tipping anything – you could be running the ball and you could be throwing it."
Dalton also will have second-year slot receiver Tyler Boyd, who caught 54 passes for 603 yards, and veteran Brandon LaFell, who had 64 receptions for 862 yards and six touchdowns, as targets at different times.
"Skill position wise we're probably one of the more talented offenses in this league, starting with Andy," said Hill. "Our expectations are high. I think we've got the men in this locker room to achieve our goals."
A lot will hinge on the performance of the offensive line, which will feature three new starters in 2017: third-year left tackle Cedric Ogbuehi, who flopped in 11 starts last season at right tackle; third-year right tackle Jake Fisher, who started only four games his first two seasons and veteran right guard Andre Smith, who has spent his entire NFL career at right tackle.
Dalton was asked what he could to help make things easier for the young tackles, then gave them a vote of confidence.
"I can get the ball out of my hands quick. I can find ways to get incompletions (throwing the ball away), " said Dalton. "I totally expect them to get their job done. I’m not going in saying, ‘Oh I’ve got to be completely different.’ They’re going to be just fine."
If they are then the offense's potential is enormous.
"I expect us to take a big jump," said Dalton. "I think with the talent that we have we can do that."