Andy Dalton has been the definition of average over his NFL career. For Cincinnati, “average” has been good enough to take a roster with good players to the playoffs three straight years. It has not been good enough once they get there.
Let’s take a look at just how average Dalton has been. We can adjust passing numbers to league averages, as they do at pro-football-reference here. A score of 100 is exactly league average, with higher numbers above average, and below 100 being below average.
- Andy Dalton’s career “Adjusted Net Yards per Pass Attempt” score is 100;
- His career passer rating score is 101;
- His career completion percentage of 60.86% checks in at exactly league average over the last three years;
- His career yards per attempt, touchdown rate, interception rate, and sack rate are all within a short distance of average.
How average have Dalton’s numbers been? He’s probably the most average quarterback from ages 24 to 26 in NFL history. Most quarterbacks do something exceptionally well, or poorly, and have some distinguishing characteristics. Maybe they are deep throwers who have a low completion percentage but a high yards per attempt. Maybe they are gamblers that force balls, resulting in both more touchdowns and more interceptions. Maybe they take a lot of sacks, but avoid throwing the ball to the other team.
Dalton, meanwhile, is right down the middle. I took the league adjusted score in all the relevant rate categories, compared them to every quarterback from age 24 to 26 who threw 900 or more passes, and then squared the differences from the average score of 100.
Here are the quarterbacks who checked in with the most average numbers, once we account for the league wide numbers. I list, in order, the adjusted score in passer rating, adjusted net yards per attempt, completion percentage, yards per attempt, touchdown rate, interception rate, and sack rate.
- Don Majkowski (101, 99, 104, 99, 98, 103, 92)
- Andy Dalton (101, 100, 100, 97, 106, 96, 106)
- Joe Flacco (104, 103, 100, 100, 101, 110, 98)
- Chris Miller (103, 106, 93, 101, 105, 106, 105)
- Steve Pelluer (96, 98, 105, 103, 88, 98, 102)
- Jim Plunkett (95, 94, 92, 97, 96, 99, 92)
- Steve McNair (98, 102, 96, 96, 93, 110, 106)
- Jeff Blake (103, 106, 93, 100, 110, 106, 104)
- Craig Erickson (95, 101, 88, 105, 102, 93, 99)
- Pat Haden (104, 106, 102, 100, 95, 111, 107)
Don Majkowski checks in slightly ahead of Dalton on the overall averageness scale, but the Majik Man did that in inconsistent fashion, having his Majik season in 1989 at age 25, then crashing back the next year. For three years, Dalton has been consistently average. Steve McNair is the best of the lot, and he is kind of the anti-Dalton. Whereas Dalton was seen as the safest bet to start right away because of his background, McNair was a work in progress who was eased in as the starter.
Most of these guys had a hard time maintaining their positions with the same team as they moved into the late twenties. Being average can be a good thing in an elite league, but being there for too long means teams are ready to move on.
Joe Flacco also stands there in sharp contrast right next to Dalton, based on their diverging paths in the playoffs. Dalton laid a giant turd for the third time in a postseason game, and his numbers in three games in January are dreadful. Flacco rode a hot postseason to a big contract, something Dalton cannot expect.
There will be much talk about the Bengals replacing Dalton. That will surely happen at some point, but there is often too much talk about who is and is not the quarterback of the future. In the short term, the decision is easy. Finding even average is difficult, and Dalton has been a well above average return on the investment based on where he was selected, compared to other quarterbacks taken late first round and early second. Dalton has one more year on his rookie deal. He would be eligible to finally re-negotiate and extend, but there should be no rush for Cincinnati. Take the extra year. Perhaps draft competition, but the likelihood of getting an immediate starter to exceed Dalton in this draft is slim, where Cincinnati will be selecting. If he hasn’t made a big jump by next year, move on.