Daily Focus: Andy Dalton isn't Tom Brady, but he was a top QB in '15
Editor’s note: Every day in “Daily Focus,” PFF analysts take the latest NFL news and translate what it really means for each team involved.
No, Andy Dalton isn’t Tom Brady. But he was one of the NFL’s best QBs in 2015: Newly signed Bengals wide receiver Brandon LaFell made waves yesterday by stating QB Andy Dalton could be a similar player to his prior QB in New England, the future hall-of-famer Tom Brady, citing the level of respect he commands in the locker room and comparing the high intelligence level of the two signal-callers.
While many will scoff at this notion and reference the Bengals’ recent record in the playoffs, Dalton likely isn’t being given enough credit — at least in the short-term for how well he played last year before his thumb injury against Pittsburgh in Week 14 ended his season.
In 13 weeks, Dalton threw 25 touchdowns to just seven interceptions, and his NFL QB rating of 106.3 was almost 20 points higher than his previous best output of 87.0 in 2013. His QB rating on play-action was third-best (fourth-best without play-action), and his rating when getting rid of the ball in 2.5 seconds or less was 115.7, best in the league.
He also ranked in the top 10 of every measurement of adjusted completion percentage we chart at PFF, most notably sixth on throws under pressure and fifth on throws 20-plus yards downfield.
While Dalton would need to duplicate his 2015 performance essentially over the course of an entire decade (and in the playoffs) to come anywhere close to warranting comparisons to Brady, there’s no denying his play last year put him among the elite in the league for the season.
The four best team fits for free-agent OT Eugene Monroe: With yesterday’s news of former Ravens offensive tackle Eugene Monroe’s release, speculation immediately began as to where he is most likely to land as a free agent. Per Adam Schefter, the three most likely teams to vie for his services are the Giants, Chargers and Seahawks, and all three make sense. We also think the Bears are a potential fit. Let’s look at all three options:
New York Giants: They were forced to start rookie Ereck Flowers at left tackle in 2015 after losing veteran William Beatty to injury before the start of the season. While Flowers admirably gutted out much of the year with a bum ankle, he struggled mightily throughout the season, in particular in pass protection. He gave up 69 total pressures, and graded out 74th among the 77 offensive tackles with at least 400 snaps last year.
San Diego Chargers: After strong back-to-back seasons for the Chargers in 2013 and 2014, left tackle King Dunlap played just 319 snaps during an injury-riddled 2015. While he should be ready to go this season (he missed multiple games with an ankle injury and a concussion last year), San Diego’s only real option at right tackle is Joe Barksdale, who combined to yield 97 total pressures as the starting right tackle for the Chargers in 2015 and the Rams in 2014.
Seattle Seahawks: Garry Gilliam started at right tackle for the Seahawks in 2015 and graded out as our 62nd-best tackle, out of 77. Despite his struggles, he is expected to take over at left tackle for the departed Russell Okung (went to Denver as a free agent), and with J’Marcus Webb or rookie Germain Ifedi (who graded poorly in college for Texas A&M) expected to man the right side, adding a player of Monroe’s ability would give the line a much-needed boost in competency.
Chicago Bears: We think they are another team to keep an eye on over the next few days, as having to start Charles Leno at left tackle (42 combined pressures and our 68th-ranked run-blocker last year) is certainly less than ideal. Monroe’s injury struggles the past two seasons have limited his time and effectiveness on the field, but if healthy he is still likely a top-15 left tackle, as he has posted positive overall grades in every year but two of his seven-year career.
Darius Slay is correct — he is a top-seven NFL cornerback: Lions cornerback Darius Slay is hoping to receive a mega-contract extension this offseason, and recently told Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press that he believes he’s a top-seven CB in the league. When asked which players at his position better than him right now, he listed Darrelle Revis of the Jets, Richard Sherman of the Seahawks, Patrick Peterson of the Cardinals, Chris Harris and Aqib Talib of the Broncos and Joe Haden of the Browns.
Our own Sam Monson also ranks Slay the seventh-best CB in football right now (albeit with several different names ahead of him than the ones he listed), but is there a case to be made for Slay being even higher?
The only cornerback to grade better than Slay in 2015 was Arizona’s Tyrann Mathieu, who took the vast majority of his coverage snaps from the slot and is still considered by many observers to be a safety. Slay gave up just 47 receptions on 73 targets, and an average of just 3.57 yards after the catch. He also ranked fourth in tackling efficiency, with Peterson being the only player on both lists with fewer missed tackles (Slay had four, Peterson missed just two).
These numbers are marked improvements over a solid 2014 campaign that saw him yield 59 catches on 103 targets with an average of 4.39 yards after the catch. The fact he was targeted roughly 30 percent less this past season is certainly telling as to how the rest of the league views him.
Slay is certainly among the league’s elite corners, and if he continues on the trend of improvement he’s shows the last two seasons, he is likely to crack the top five soon (and be paid as such).