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What Andy Dalton must prove if he wants to be an NFL starter in 2021

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Andy Dalton was resolute about his standing among NFL quarterbacks after his final start for the Cincinnati Bengals.

“I want to be a starter in this league,” Dalton said on Dec. 29 after he led the Bengals to a Week 17 win over the Cleveland Browns. “I know I can do that. I just want the opportunity to be a starter.”

But it was clear the chance Dalton wanted was slipping out of reach. Earlier in the 2019 season, he was benched for three games while Cincinnati mulled its long-term outlook and started rookie Ryan Finley.
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From the time the Bengals ended their 2-14 season until April 30, when Dalton was finally released, the nine-year veteran was in quarterback purgatory. He escaped last week and signed a one-year deal with the Dallas Cowboys to back up Dak Prescott.

Whether Dalton agrees or not, this is his new reality. Unless something drastic occurs, Dalton is now an NFL backup until he gets an opportunity to show otherwise. If that time comes, he must convince a team he’s better than the numbers indicate during the end of his time in Cincinnati, when he ranked toward the bottom of the league in categories such as Total QBR, completion percentage and yards per attempt.

Dalton knows that chance likely won’t occur until 2021.5

“I feel like there’s a lot of good football left for me,” Dalton said in an ESPN podcast with Adam Schefter on Monday. “And so, this year’s to hopefully just keep improving and make myself better and then see what happens next March.”

Dalton’s time in Cincinnati can be split into two eras.

From his rookie year in 2011 to 2015, the Bengals made five straight postseason trips, the longest streak in franchise history. He was one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks in 2015 before he suffered a season-ending thumb injury in Week 14. At the time, he ranked third in Total QBR and had the highest QBR in the pocket, against man coverage and against zone coverage, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Since 2016, Dalton has failed to rank in the league’s top 25 percent in Total QBR, according to ESPN Stats & Info. That time period included the end of Marvin Lewis’ coaching tenure and the 2019 season, which ended with the NFL’s worst record and the No. 1 overall pick. The Bengals selected former LSU quarterback Joe Burrow on April 23.nike nfl jerseys cheap paypal

Because of how the Bengals cratered after winning the AFC North in 2015, it’s hard to discern Dalton’s quality. Cincinnati hasn’t finished over the .500 mark since 2015 and is 8-20 in divisional play during that span.

But a closer look at Dalton’s stats provides a little more clarity.

The numbers suggest Dalton is a high-risk passer. Since 2016, Dalton has thrown 30 dimes, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. Dimes is considered to be a completion of 30 or more air yards into a window of less than a yard of separation. He ranks seventh in that category over that span.

However, that risk has also been a major detriment. Dalton ranks second among all quarterbacks in combined interceptions (72) and dropped interceptions (75), according to ESPN Stats & Info. It’s worth noting that Jameis Winston, the only QB who ranks worse in this category, also shuffled from a starter with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a backup with the New Orleans Saints this offseason.

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