The Bengals' Andy Dalton was unveiled as the 19th-best quarterback in ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski's ranking of the top 30 veteran quarterbacks in the NFL.
This is a fair assessment of where Dalton currently stands among NFL quarterbacks. In terms of the league, he's ahead of Kevin Kolb (No. 25), Ryan Fitzpatrick (No. 24) and Carson Palmer (No. 21). Jaworski even put Dalton one spot ahead of Sam Bradford, a former No. 1 overall pick in the draft.
But, in the scope of the division, Dalton isn't ahead of the likes of Joe Flacco or Ben Roethlisberger. Overall, it was an impressive first-year campaign for Dalton, who became the only rookie in NFL history to throw for 20 or more touchdowns passes while winning eight or more games as a starting quarterback.
"The more I evaluated Dalton, the more I liked him," Jaworski said. "He does have some arm strength limitations, but he compensates very well with his anticipation and his accuracy. That was particularly evident in the red zone. And that is an absolutely critical measure of a quarterback. The numbers were exceptional: 15 touchdowns, no interceptions. Dalton was very effective in the boot action pass game. He did that well at TCU, and his ability to throw accurately on the run transitioned well to the NFL."
The biggest knock on Dalton has been his arm strength. As Jaworski noted, his anticipation offsets that on some throws. Some quarterbacks have the arm strength to wait for the receivers to get open coming out of their break and still get the ball there. Dalton gets rid of the ball before the wide receiver gets out of his break, which is quite a feat for a first-year passer.
“What must supplement anticipation is pinpoint ball location," Jaworski said. "Dalton was consistently accurate in the short to intermediate areas. He put the ball right in his receiver's hands. As my good friend quarterback coach Terry Shea says, he hits the strike point. Remember, it is the quarterback who is most responsible for run after catch."
Jaworski added, “Overall, Dalton threw with great touch. What also stood out was his willingness to look down the gun barrel, to deliver the football in the face of pressure. You have to do that in the NFL. You will get hit. You still have to make the throws."
The next step for Dalton is overcoming the best defenses in the division. In four games against Pittsburgh and Baltimore, Dalton had an 0-4 record with four touchdowns and five interceptions. Against the rest of the NFL, he was 9-3 with 16 touchdowns and eight interceptions.
Jaworski believes Dalton has tremendous upside.
“As I look ahead to the 2012 season, I expect Dalton to improve," Jaworski said. "The pass game concepts of offensive coordinator Jay Gruden mesh perfectly with Dalton's skill set. I would not be surprised if a year from now Dalton is approaching my top 10. He has a chance to make that kind of jump in one season.”
I will update Jaworski's list when he gets to Flacco and Roethlisberger. The Browns were one of three teams who didn't have a veteran quarterback make the list (not surprisingly, the Colts and Redskins were the others).
The AFC North blog would like to thank ESPN's Allie Stoneberg for passing along the transcript.