Andy Dalton Is the Perfect Late-Round Quarterback in Fantasy Football This Year

Andy Dalton didn't have a spectacular fantasy football performance in 2016, but everything could change with healthy personnel this season.

Ask a fellow fantasy footballer to describe Andy Dalton, and they'll probably talk about his bright orange hair. Or how this one time they picked him up off the waiver wire and he gave them a decent-enough performance. Or how they never roster him because he doesn't provide enough upside.

He's more than that, though.

Dalton's boring as can be, sure, but he actually has a pretty decent fantasy football résumé. In 2013, for instance, only four quarterbacks scored more fantasy points than he tallied. And two years ago, prior to a finger injury that ended up sidelining him for the season, Dalton was pacing towards another top-five finish.

One year removed from a season that was full of injuries to star Cincinnati playmakers -- most notably A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert -- Dalton has a good chance to return to form. And by form, I'm not referring to what people think Andy Dalton is.

I mean Andy Dalton, the high-upside fantasy football quarterback.

That 2015 Season

As I said, Dalton finished as a top-five fantasy option at quarterback in 2013. But that was also kind of a down year for the position. He posted 288 standard fantasy points, a total that would've ranked 8th in 2012, 7th in 2014, 11th in 2015, and 7th in 2016.

That year, he averaged 18.0 fantasy points per game.

In 2015, he averaged even more.

Dalton's 18.8 fantasy points per game rate was ninth-best in football that year, but his average was technically even better because one of the games included in the "games played" category was one where he was injured early, throwing just five passes. Remove that game completely -- he scored 0.36 points -- and Dalton's average skyrockets to 20.32.

That's Drew Brees-esque.

How did he do it? Masterful efficiency.

That year -- 2015 -- Dalton had a touchdown rate (touchdowns divided by attempts) of 6.5%. For context, the average rate in today's NFL will hover around 4.5% for quarterbacks. And Dalton's average throughout his career currently sits at 4.6%.

So, yeah, he played a little over his head. And his Passing Net Expected Points (or NEP, which you can read about more in our glossary) numbers reflected that: Dalton was the most efficient quarterback in 2015 according to our metrics.

Was it an outlier season? Efficiency-wise, probably so. But there are plenty of reasons to think something big could happen in 2017.

Top-Notch Personnel

Spoiler alert: when a quarterback has healthy red zone threats, he'll more than likely be better at throwing touchdowns.

Dalton's touchdown rate dropped to 3.2% in 2016, which ended up being a career low. Regression was bound to hit him in 2016, but falling flat the way he did in the scoring department wasn't just regression-related. It was personnel-related.

As I said at the top, Tyler Eifert and AJ Green were hobbled last year. In 2015, they weren't. Green played every game, and Eifert missed three.

Unsurprisingly, over the last couple of seasons, Dalton's seen much better touchdown numbers with both players on the field.

Split Games Average Weekly Rank Fantasy Point Average TD Rate Yards/Att
Green + Eifert 13 11.77 18.53 5.59% 7.89
Only Green 8 12.38 19.98 4.09% 8.77
Only Eifert 5 15.80 15.49 3.39% 6.55

And it's very obvious that AJ Green means a lot to Dalton's success, too.

To be clear, the numbers above exclude Week 17 (since it's irrelevant to fantasy football) as well as the game in 2015 where Dalton was injured. There was also one contest where both Eifert and Green were sidelined. That week, Dalton ranked as the 21st-best passer and scored 12.72 fantasy points.

Dalton has oddly averaged more fantasy points per game with Green and without Eifert on the field over the last two years, but that has to do with sample size and the fact that he had a couple of big performances that skewed the average. That's why the weekly ranking is listed there -- to show you he's been more consistent with both players healthy.

What's most important here is the touchdown rate column. We know touchdowns rule fantasy football and can be somewhat random, but to combat the randomness, having strong personnel is key. And that's what Dalton has with Eifert and Green: two towers who can be big red zone threats for their red-haired gunslinger.

On top of that, the Bengals went out and used first- and second-round draft selections on offensive playmakers. They took John Ross in Round 1 to help stretch the field and make plays, and Joe Mixon could serve as the team's every-down back as soon as Week 1.

Though the offensive line took a hit this offseason with the losses of Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler, this is probably -- easily? -- the best personnel group Dalton's ever played with.

Touchdown Potential Is Everything

Historically, a quarterback with Andy Dalton's 3.2% touchdown rate would be expected to see that rate rise roughly a full percentage point the following year thanks to some positive regression. The graph below -- which comes from an article from last summer on touchdown rates -- illustrates this point.

We know Dalton was efficient in 2015, but he actually could've seen an even higher ceiling had he thrown more passes. His 31.75 attempts per game average that year (again, this removes that stupid five-attempt game he had when he was injured) was the second-lowest rate he's seen in his career. Naturally, more passes -- assuming the same efficiency -- would've yielded more fantasy points.

What happens if Dalton increases his touchdown rate all while seeing the same number of attempts as last year?

Fantasy football goodness is what happens.

AttemptsTouchdown RateTouchdowns
5633.20% (2016 Rate)18.02
5634.20% (Regressed Rate)23.65
5634.60% (Career Rate)25.90
5635.59% (Rate With Green and Eifert)31.47

With a simple regressed touchdown rate -- again, assuming he's throwing 563 passes -- Dalton's looking at almost 24 touchdown passes. Had he just thrown at his career touchdown rate last year, he would've had close to 26 scores. And if he can throw passing touchdowns at the rate we've seen him do so with Green and Eifert on the field over the last two years, Dalton could easily surpass 30 touchdown passes.

For some context, 26 touchdowns from Dalton last year would have upped his fantasy total by 32 points, making him fantasy football's sixth-best quarterback.

And your computer might explode when I tell you his hypothetical fantasy total at the Green-and-Eifert touchdown rate: 314 points, or the fourth-best quarterback.

But, sure, Andy Dalton doesn't have upside.

And that's the central point to make here. When you're getting your quarterback late in a fantasy football draft, you shouldn't be worried about his floor. In a worst-case scenario, you can stream the position.

You need to focus on the ceiling.

You need to focus on touchdown potential.

And, guys, whether you like it or not, Andy Dalton has that potential in the Cincinnati offense.