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Is Andy Dalton evolving?

In 2015 the Cincinnati Bengals finished with a 12-4 record and made the playoffs, ostensibly on the back of an improved performance from Andy Dalton. When Dalton left the week 12 loss to the Steelers with a fractured right thumb, the offence suffered. Was Dalton’s improvement simply a matter of maturity or were several factors working to inflate the 28 year old’s stats?

The Bengals were 7th in offensive points scored with 26.2. Dalton’s improved play was a huge reason for this. In his first four seasons, Dalton averaged a respectable 85 quarterback rating.

Despite missing three games due to injury, his quarterback rating in 2015 took a leap to an elite level of 106.2. Dalton was able to drastically reduce his interceptions in 2015 as he threw only seven picks while still throwing 25 touchdown passes.

Perhaps it was the emergence of tight end Tyler Eifert that saw Dalton’s yards per pass increase to 8.4 but it’s more likely to be the fact that Dalton simply threw the ball into traffic a lot less.

Now let’s consider the offensive line. They helped to keep Dalton upright and allowed him to use his skills to deliver passes with improved accuracy. Andrew Whitworth is one of the top tier left tackles in the game and their guards are solid. Pro Football Focus ranks them as the 8th best line going into 2016.

Marvin Jones posted 816 yards last year and Mohamed Sanu chipped in with 394. The 27-year-old Marvin Jones improved on his 2013 numbers after missing the 2014 season with an ankle surgery and was able to stretch the field next to A.J. Green. Sanu has developed slowly in the NFL since entering. According to ESPN, Sanu grabbed 33 receptions from the 50 times he was targeted. Both players have departed for new teams.

Jones and Sanu may be gone but stars A.J. Green and Eifert remain. They give the Bengals an impressive pass catching duo regardless of who’s lining up opposite Green. Eifert is an emerging playmaker for the Bengals.

He set a team record for touchdowns from a tight end with 13. Green himself has had five consecutive 1,000 yard seasons since entering the league in 2011. His 2015 season saw him collect an impressive 1,297 and 10 touchdowns and average 15.1 yards per catch.

So who will be Dalton’s new targets this season? Tyler Boyd was a star for the University of Pittsburgh in 2014, snagging a career best 78 balls for 1,261 yards and eight touchdowns. In 2015 his numbers dropped as the Pitt. Panthers focussed on the run. Taken in the second round, he will be given plenty of opportunities.

While Boyd is an unknown entity as a pro, the Bengals added former Carolina Panthers and New England Patriots receiver Brandon LaFell. LaFell isn’t going to scare anyone and won’t make teams game plan around him but he can be a solid contributor and has averaged 44.3 yards a game over his career. LaFell is coming out of a 2015 season that was derailed by injury.

If Dalton is to continue at the same level as he did in 2015 he’ll have to do so with this new supporting cast outside of Green and rising star Eifert.

I’m doubtful whether Dalton is able to replicate his 2015 numbers as he strives to build a rapport with his new receivers. For Bengals fans though, there is cause for hope.

Dalton works diligently and genuinely seems to learn from his mistakes, Boyd offers a solid route runner with good hands and the offensive line that kept him upright in 2015 remains largely intact.
Late Addition to the Bengals:
The 2016 supplemental NFL draft was over before it even started. No players were drafted after all 32 teams passed on using a pick on any of the six players available. However, that’s not the end of the NFL dream for many of the players.

Former University of Calgary Dinos receiver Rashaun Simonise, at 6’5” and 190 pounds, offers an impressive stature. If reports of a 4.42 seconds 40-yard dash are accurate, he’s got the speed too. Simonise posted a 35-inch vertical and a 10-foot broad jump.

If he makes the roster (which is far from guaranteed) then he could take up some of the slack from the loss of Sanu and Jones.

Pic credit: FoxSports

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