Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Cincinnati Bengals [Print without images]

Tuesday, January 7, 2014
Dalton, Kaepernick and the 2011 NFL draft

By Coley Harvey

CINCINNATI -- As he made what might later be construed as a last-lap media tour here, Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden wrapped up a busy Monday of interviews by appearing on a local radio show.

While visiting with ESPN 1530 AM's Lance McAlister and former Bengal and team radio analyst Dave Lapham on their weekly "Bengals Line" show, Gruden addressed a number of issues relating to his offense in Cincinnati, his interest in a number of head-coaching vacancies and his take on what went wrong Sunday when the Bengals started calling a conservative offensive game plan in a 27-10 loss to San Diego in the wild-card round of the AFC playoffs.

As he was earlier in the day with print writers and television crews, Gruden was candid and forthright.

One of the more interesting parts of his chat with McAlister and Lapham were comments Gruden made about the 2011 NFL draft. That was, of course, the draft that brought Andy Dalton to Cincinnati, sent Colin Kaepernick to San Francisco, Jake Locker to Tennessee, Ryan Mallett to New England, etc.

Of that quartet, Kaepernick has arguably had the better career, already starting in one Super Bowl and appearing poised to lead his team to another. Dalton would be considered No. 2 on that list, having posted strong regular-season numbers and pulling off feats that only Peyton Manning and Cam Newton have also accomplished. Manning, Newton and Dalton are the only quarterbacks in NFL history to begin their careers having passed for more than 3,000 yards in each of their first three seasons.

As the No. 1 overall pick in 2011, Newton was off the draft board quickly to Carolina. Among the Bengals' chief concerns that year were their quarterback and receiver positions.

With the fourth overall selection, Cincinnati fulfilled its receiver issue by drafting A.J. Green from Georgia. Next was the 35th overall pick, and third selection of the second round. The Bengals needed to make sure they got their quarterback right there.

"We didn't just need a quarterback to come in and compete or be a backup for a couple years and develop on the sidelines," Gruden told McAlister and Lapham. "We needed one to come in and start right away."

Carson Palmer was still on the roster, but it was clear he and the organization were about to part ways. The Bengals needed the next quarterback upon whose shoulders they would place their long-term aspirations.

When it was time to make the pick, three names were still sitting on the board: Dalton, Kaepernick and Mallett. They were the only three names the Bengals' brain trust was even concerned with between the end of the first round and the beginning of the second.

Along with Newton, Locker, Blaine Gabbert and Christian Ponder had all come off the board within the first 12 picks.

The San Francisco 49ers, who needed a backup quarterback, took linebacker Aldon Smith with their seventh overall selection. When it was announced the Bengals had used their 35th overall pick on TCU's Dalton, the 49ers traded up to take Denver's 36th spot. Before any other team could snatch the big-bodied, mobile Kaepernick, the 49ers wanted to make him theirs.

And there you have it. Two separate players taken one pick apart, and two distinctly separate paths for two somewhat similar franchises.

"It was my feeling and a lot of other people's feeling in the building that Andy was the most mentally ready to come in and start Day 1," Gruden said. "Mallett [who fell to New England in the middle of the third round] has great physical tools, there's no question about it. But there were [off-field] questions about him, and Colin had the great physical makeup, but there were questions about his quarterback accuracy as a passer is concerned. I also wasn't really into the read-option stuff and it wasn't really that popular at the time."

Kaepernick played in a Pistol offense at Nevada, and he proved he could be a dual-threat player. Gruden wanted more of a pocket passer who could run only when needed. He and the rest of the staff also wanted a player they didn't think they'd need to coach much.

That's where Dalton, fresh off a Rose Bowl win against Wisconsin, came in. It was his third bowl win in four tries. Throughout his collegiate postseason career he completed 63.7 percent of his passes, averaged 234.3 yards passing per game and had two touchdowns and four interceptions. His lowest bowl passer rating was 102.6. Back then, "Good Andy" and "Big-Game Andy" were one and the same.

Thanks to Kenton Wong of ESPN Stats & Info, you can see they no longer are. When it comes to NFL playoff games, Dalton has been lapped by Kaepernick, the player Bengals owner Mike Brown said he preferred in a Cincinnati Enquirer article from Sunday. At right is a chart Wong assembled showing the playoff disparity both possess.

Since Dalton better fit Gruden's scheme, it's doubtful the Bengals would change things if they had to do it all over again.

But you have to wonder ...