In his “10 players to watch at the 2014 NFL Combine” for the National Football Post, Dave Miller compares former Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron to Andy Dalton, saying that he has a chance to have a beginning of a career similar to the Bengals quarterback. That’s an interesting way to put it I would say because Dalton’s early career has been very admirable. The big question now is where he and the Bengals go from here.
Better quarterbacks have had great careers that didn’t start off as well as Andy Dalton, although there are other good quarterbacks especially recently who have had as good or better starts than him from a numbers perspective.
Dalton is an interesting case because he doesn’t have the physical tools that create high early expectations for somebody like a Matthew Stafford or a Cam Newton, but now he’s won enough, in part because of him and in part because the situation created by the Bengals suddenly learning now to draft over the past five years or so, that the expectations are very high just the same.
Year 1 Andy Dalton, Year 2 Andy Dalton, and maybe even Year 3 Andy Dalton are all good things to be in the grand scheme of things. But the original Andy Dalton brought along with him questions about arm strength and accuracy that continue to linger and open the door to wondering just how much better Year 4 Dalton or Year 5 Andy Dalton and can be. That’s important because none of the Daltons we’ve seen so far will have this team going deep into the playoffs.
So what else is there?
Of course time for development is good for everybody and necessary for most. Drew Brees did not become a Super Bowl-caliber quarterback early in his career, but there is a key difference. And this comes up with the McCarron story as well. The writer notes that McCarron might have more accuracy than Dalton. Well, Dalton’s number one question would seem to be accuracy (in the sense that it’s a given he doesn’t and will never have an extremely strong arm, so that’s not really a question anymore). That’s also why it’s hard to have a lot of patience with him. Not everybody is blessed with a super strong arm, but accuracy is something that can be developed. Where has that development been in the last three years?
We are a long way from the draft, but McCarron could be the guy who could play the effective caretaker role that Dalton has struggled with in the postseason, when he has not only failed to make big plays but committed errors that hurt the team’s chances to win. They might live with the former but not the latter.
It’s impossible to ignore the good things Dalton has accomplished so far in his career, and I certainly don’t think it’s time to cut bait and move on. However, I do think it’s essential the team be open to finding a possible alternative.
Quarterback purgatory is a bad place to be, and the Bengals don’t have to end up there. They also don’t need to draft a quarterback who has superstar written all over him because they’ve already proven they can win enough games to get into the playoffs with a guy who’s only okay. With the way the pay structure is now, you can afford to carry multiple young quarterbacks, especially non-first rounders.
That’s why I think it wouldn’t be a bad idea at all, and perhaps could be viewed as a necessity, to find another Dalton-type player in this draft and then see how things develop. Is that McCarron? Their senior seasons were statistically similar, but McCarron certainly faced a higher level of competition while also having better weapons around him.
The progression we’ve seen with Dalton is not unusual at all. There has always been a huge gulf between being able to be effective and being able to dominate at quarterback. And the difference is generally determined by mentality much more so than talent. The ability to make decisions that lead to big plays in crunch time is the ultimate determinant of success as a quarterback. Is that something you learn, or is it something you’re born with it? Or do you have to be born with the ability to learn it?
A player can be physically talented enough to have a wider variety of decisions available to you that can become effective, such as being able to make certain throws that won’t work for everyone or create something out of nothing with his legs. Dalton does not and will never live in that world. And that is cause for concern when thinking about development and ceiling.
Hence why the present is most important, but the future could be close enough the team needs to make sure it has it’s bases covered for both.