Andy Dalton: 2017 Fantasy Outlook

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Andy Dalton is a player who seems to be perennially undervalued by fantasy football players. Currently, he’s coming off the board as QB16 in MFL10s and QB18 in dynasty startups. Given this acquisition cost, fantasy players appear only to be factoring in his downside without accounting for his improved situation.

Admittedly, Dalton’s finishes over his career have been streaky at best.

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Got Health?

Over the last three years, the Bengals offense has been bitten hard by the injury bug. Injuries have capped Dalton’s upside and prevented him from consistently finishing as a top-12 quarterback.

In 2014, Dalton played the entire season without the services of Tyler Eifert and Marvin Jones.  Additionally, A.J. Green missed three games and played much of the season limited by injury. Through 12 weeks in 2015, Dalton was on pace to finish as the QB5. His season came to an end when he fractured his thumb during the opening drive of Cincinnati’s Week 13 game, possibly costing fantasy players their playoff matchup.

Last season, Dalton played eight games without Eifert and six without Green. The offense was bereft of playmakers, which resulted in Brandon LaFell finishing the season as Dalton’s primary receiving threat. Now with a fully healthy complement of weapons (Eifert injury news pending), Dalton appears primed to shed his reputation as a QB only worth streaming.

As Joshua Lake has shown before, Dalton has had several weeks as a top-12 QB over the last three seasons. His successes have come despite injuries to key offensive players.  A quick look at the RotoViz Splits App indicates that Dalton can be a perennial top-12 fantasy option, provided the offense remains healthy.

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The important point here is that when he’s had top weapons available, he’s posted QB1 numbers on a per-game basis.

Concerns about the O-Line

There’s no way to sugarcoat this. The Bengals offensive line, a unit that ranked 15th in pass protection (per PlayerProfiler), lost two of its best linemen in free agency. Although the Bengals drafted offensive tackles with their first two picks in 2015, both Cedric Obguehi and Jake Fisher have underwhelmed to date. Unless both Obguehi and Fisher improve their play, this could be a unit that ranks among the worst in the league. Assuming the offensive line fails to gel in training camp, the running game should suffer. The run-blocking efficiency of the line could be among the worst in the league, forcing the Bengals to lean on their aerial attack.

Concerns about a poor pass blocking offensive line should not worry Dalton owners as he is one of the fastest passers in the league. As Tyler Buecher notes, this is a skill that the Bengals may utilize out of necessity and appear to have drafted accordingly.

Meet The New Guys

As pointed out by Matt Wispe, the Bengals added several of the best offensive players in this draft class. By selecting John Ross with the ninth-overall pick, the Bengals appeared to have tipped their hand and indicated that they are looking to pass more often. John Ross’ ability to take the top off a defense should help other playmakers exploit the underneath areas of the field. This is a boon for Andy Dalton, as the majority of his throws have an adjusted yards per attempt (AYA) ranging from 5.87 to 7.44.

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Andy Dalton has quietly been one of the most accurate QBs in the NFL, completing over 60 percent of his passes since his rookie campaign in 2011. His AYA per receiver indicates that he has no qualms about checking down to his running backs. With the addition of Joe Mixon to the backfield, Dalton will have two prolific receiving backs.

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Although Dalton doesn’t throw the deep ball often, he throws it accurately, and he completed 40.3 percent of his deep passes in 2016 (10th among NFL QBs) and 42.6 percent in 2015 (sixth among NFL QBs). This is a sneaky weapon in his arsenal, and the additions of John Ross and Josh Malone could help him throw deep more often.

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In the mind’s eye of many fantasy gamers, Andy Dalton is a QB wholly dependent on his supporting cast. A quick look at the above table indicates that Dalton quietly matched or improved on his 2013 production metrics (the lone season where he finished as a top-10 fantasy QB). Despite falling well below his historical touchdown rate, Dalton ended the season as a QB1. Provided the offense remains healthy, we should expect a positive regression in Dalton’s touchdown rate. The addition of more talented offensive players helps ensure that Dalton should have a full supporting cast this year.

Fantasy Projection

While setting a projection for 2017, I adjusted Cincinnati’s game pace and pass tendency to skew slightly towards Ken Zampese’s preferred up-tempo play style. Dalton should see a similar number of attempts as last season, as Cincinnati appears to favor a pass-heavy approach. To account for Dalton’s quick release time, but account for his depleted offensive line, I’ve assumed that Dalton should get sacked at a similar rate as last season.
Dalton Projection

If the last few years have been accurate representations of Dalton’s floor, our projection gives a good look at his ceiling. Andy Dalton should be able to take advantage of a good offense and match his career high numbers.

Conclusion

Poor injury luck has artificially suppressed Dalton’s value, and he is currently available at a steep discount in all formats. His fantasy projection of 291 would have placed him seventh in 2016 and 10th in 2015 among all QBs. Andy Dalton should be able to outperform his current ADP and has a very good chance of being this season’s Kirk Cousins.