Without the help of a flux capacitator or Dr. Emmett Brown, this series will attempt to take a look back in time to help us predict the future dynasty results of some of our current fantasy stars. The first quarterback in this series is Andy Dalton, and I can already hear some of you scoffing at the term "star". Dalton's critical reception reminds me a little of another red-headed stranger from long ago. This guy was an amazing songwriter but everyone hated his voice, basically telling him that he had a career writing songs, but not one singing. Like Dalton, he surrounded himself with an all-star cast and eventually released double-digit #1s on the country charts. Even more amusing is that he outlasted everyone from his era and is still a huge star today.
Yes, I'm comparing Andy Dalton to Willie Nelson, as Dalton has numerous detractors two years into his NFL career. There are plenty of people that think Dalton can manage an offense, but very few think he has the skillset to become a solid QB1 in fantasy football. Without getting into a debate about his skillset, let's first take a look at the three best comparables to Dalton's first two seasons in the league. If the Dalton detractors didn't scoff in paragraph one, I'm sure they will when they see that the list includes Peyton Manning, Carson Palmer, and Drew Bledsoe.
The first thing you'll likely notice in looking at the above chart is that Manning was the only of the three comps that continued to improve in year three. Palmer saw a slight decrease in year two while Bledsoe regressed almost all the way back to the production of his rookie campaign. From that point forward, only Manning was able maintain a level of production above what he did in season two. In other words, Palmer and Bledsoe essentially peaked in year two. Is that likely to happen to Dalton as well? Let's take a closer look at these three.
Because he started his career where Dalton is now, let's start with Carson Palmer. Palmer thrived early in his career, and like Dalton, had a young elite receiver in Chad Johnson. Unfortunately for Palmer, he suffered a devastating knee injury in the playoffs following his sophomore season and was never the same quarterback. In seasons three and four Palmer saw his completion and touchdown percentages dropped while his interception percentage skyrocketed. In year five Palmer was again bitten by the injury bug, but refused Tommy John surgery and played only four games for the Bengals. The rest of the story is more recent history, but it's fair to say that Palmer has never fulfilled the promise shown by his first two seasons.
Bledsoe also saw a regression in year three but then bounced back to near elite level in season four. From that point forward he was a fairly pedestrian QB1 that declined until he was Wally Pipped by Tom Brady. Of course the biggest difference for Bledsoe was that he never had a receiver on the same level as A.J. Green. The best receiver that Bledsoe played with in New England was Terry Glenn, who never topped 1200 yards or 7 touchdowns. This is one part of Andy Dalton's projections that often get sold short. He already has a truly dominant WR1, and a ton of young targets could develop into a solid WR2.
The final quarterback on this list is obviously one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game. What I found startling is that Manning's first two seasons were closer to Dalton's than anyone else's. Before I get accused of skewing the numbers here, let's take a look at a few more statistics from both quarterbacks through two seasons:
Manning's yardage and touchdown totals are higher, because he played from behind a lot more than Dalton in those early years, but the two are far from incomparable. Peyton Manning became what he is today because of his work ethic, his attention to detail, and his incredible natural talent. I'm not saying Dalton will ever reach those heights, but through two years you'd have a hard time finding a better comp. Manning's weapons in Indianapolis were arguably better than what Dalton has had, and Manning added Reggie Wayne in year four. Unless one of the receivers already in Cincinnati develops, it's doubtful that Dalton gets that much help.
Assuming Dalton isn't the second coming of Peyton Manning, the question becomes how close can he get?
OBSERVATIONS AND PROJECTIONS
Unless you're going to project a career altering injury for Andy Dalton it seems really difficult to think he wouldn't develop into a solid QB1 for the foreseeable future. The Bengals have the weapons in place to put together an explosive offense, and they're all extremely young. This situation sets up remarkably similarly to Indianapolis, only we don't yet have reason to believe that Dalton has the same intense drive that Peyton Manning has. Injuries could always derail Dalton's future like they did with Carson Palmer, but Drew Bledsoe's inconsistencies had as much to do with his supporting cast as anything and that isn't a concern with Dalton.
With Dalton's current value being that of a mid-level QB2 I would definitely suggest making offers in dynasty leagues. He was a borderline QB1 in 2012 and there's no reason outside of injury that he shouldn't be better in 2013. He's likely to post multiple seasons of 300+ fantasy points with a peak slightly below what Manning's was.