In PFF’s QB Annual, Dalton ended up in one of the lowest tiers. The analytics aren’t all bad, but it does not reflect positively on the Bengals’ starter.
Most quarterback analyses are fairly surface-level, but a deep dive into the numbers actually gives a very thorough ranking. PFF releases a “QB Annual” each season that looks at how quarterbacks did last season using analytical statistics rather than traditional metrics. For Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton, he grades out differently than most fans would expect.
Before getting into Dalton, here’s a quick run-through of PFF’s “clustering” analysis (for PFF’s more thorough explanation, click this sentence). PFF doesn’t like to rank all quarterbacks 1-32 because they feel that neglects some unique aspects of performance. Instead, they use an x-axis and a y-axis and plot the quarterbacks using the most important metrics. Along the x-axis are what PFF calls the “most important variables”. Those include Expected Points Added, yards per attempt, and percentage of positively-graded throws per dropback.
The y-axis measures the most stable quarterback metrics, which mean they are probably the most accurate for determining a QB’s value. Those metrics include overall PFF grade per dropback and percentage of negatively graded plays per dropback. After plotting each starter on the axes, a natural cluster appears to place each quarterback based on success. Like I said above, PFF does a more thorough explanation, so feel free to check that out as well.
For this season, PFF grouped all the starters into 6 clusters. Dalton placed into cluster five, which put him with Cam Newton, DeShone Kizer, Trevor Siemian, and Blaine Gabbert. Clearly, that does not shine a positive light on the Bengals or Dalton, but it’s not as bad as it seems.
Cluster one is only the elite quarterbacks, which is just Tom Brady, Matt Ryan, and Russell Wilson. Clusters two and three are fairly equivalent, and the same goes for clusters four and five. The difference between clusters two and three and four and five is the amount of risk in a quarterback’s game. That risk is determined by big throw percentage (a positive stat) and turnover percentage (obviously a negative stat). Players in clusters three and five have higher big throw percentages and turnover percentages than players in clusters two or four.
Therefore, Dalton grades out fairly similarly to quarterbacks in cluster four. A couple examples are Derek Carr, Jacoby Brissett, and Kirk Cousins. Dalton’s position on the graph is actually extremely close to Cousins’. To me, that says that Dalton played below average last season, but his performance wasn’t extremely bad.
Looking forward to this season, Dalton needs to improve his turnovers. Watching Bengals games last year, it was evident that Dalton was getting sloppy with the ball. In his best seasons, he takes care of the ball extremely well, averaging less than one interception a game. If Dalton could keep his big throw percentage up, especially when targeting AJ Green and John Ross, that would be ideal. Keeping turnovers low and big plays high would be the perfect way for Dalton to rebound. PFF would love him if he could do just that.