CINCINNATI -- As Andy Dalton and his agent attempt to convince the Cincinnati Bengals' front office that he's at minimum a second-tier quarterback, ESPN Insider Mike Sando published findings Wednesday of an anonymous poll featuring league coaches, general managers, scouts and players that reflects otherwise.
According to the 26 NFL insiders who voted in Sando's poll (which you need ESPN Insider access to fully read), Dalton is neither a first- nor second-tier quarterback. He's a third-tier starting signal-caller whose nice guy attitude at least one source thinks might not mesh with the Bengals' brash and confident new offensive offensive coordinator, Hue Jackson.
That same person, one Sando called "familiar with Dalton," described the fourth-year quarterback as a "sweetheart," and Jackson as a "badass who would punch you out." That same person told Sando that Jackson wouldn't be afraid to give veteran backup Jason Campbell a chance to play if it came down to it.
I'm personally not sold on Jackson deciding to do that. The only way Dalton gets uprooted in favor of Campbell, in my opinion, is if the Bengals are at the end of an abysmal season, are out of playoff contention and are looking to move on from Dalton (this, of course, is assuming the Bengals don't re-sign him to a longer term contract extension this summer. As the days continue to ticking by, it's beginning to look like that might be the case). Even though he's open to having some competition during training camp and practice, Jackson has made it quite plain to me and other reporters on the Bengals beat that he wants Dalton to be in singular command of his offense. Head coach Marvin Lewis also has made that clear.
Campbell is in Cincinnati for two reasons: to help mentor Dalton and rookie AJ McCarron, and to push Dalton if the Bengals reached a point of no return with their young starter. It doesn't seem the 26-year-old Dalton, whose wife gave birth to the couple's first child Tuesday, is suddenly in line for a collapse. If anything, judging from these comments from Jackson, it appears the quarterback could be preparing for his best campaign so far. Mechanical improvements have been noted, and the Bengals are hoping to put Dalton in better situations than he might have been at times earlier in his career. The heavy run focus of Jackson's scheme should help, as should the development of the quickened tempo the offense began implementing this spring. If Dalton can get into a rhythm more quickly in each game, he has a better chance of limiting the bouts of inconsistency and the turnover problems he has had at earlier points in his career.
It's possible that after playing like a third-tier quarterback for three years, Dalton could perform much better in Year 4.
At least one GM isn't buying that.
"The ceiling for Dalton is a three," a GM said for Sando's blog. "There is not enough about him. With a Colin Kaepernick, does he read coverages well? No, but if things are clicking for him, he can throw fastballs. Dalton cannot do that."
Another GM called Dalton a "poor man's Russell Wilson" because of his dedication to playing the position and the respect that hard work can earn around a team. That same GM questioned Dalton's physical talents as a passer, and if he'd be able to continually lead his team to the postseason. The GM said, "if he is your quarterback for 10 years, you'll go to the playoffs five times and say he's a good QB."
Dalton has been to the postseason all three years he's been in the league. He just hasn't won a playoff game yet.
As a so-called third-tier quarterback, Dalton ranked in a tie for 19th among the league's 32 anticipated starting quarterbacks who were used for the poll. He's right on par with Robert Griffin III, the voters said. Dalton also finished two spots higher than former Bengals quarterback and current Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer. Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees all shared the rankings' top spot.