The NFL Network's annual Top 100 players list is not exactly a scientific poll, but that doesn't make it meaningless.
When Andy Dalton was recently named the league's 35th-best player in a survey of his peers, it was evidence that his stellar play in 2015 resulted in increased respect for the Bengals quarterback throughout the NFL.
"It's obviously cool to be selected to the Top 100," Andy told me. "It's the first year that I've been in it so it's definitely a cool thing to know that the other guys in the league view you that way. It's cool to know that other people around the league see what you're doing and think that you played at a high level."
Although the entire list has not been revealed yet, we do know that Dalton will be the 8th highest-rated quarterback. Drew Brees (#30) and Ben Roethlisberger (#21) appeared on the list this week, and I'm guessing that the top five QBs still to come (listed alphabetically) will be Tom Brady, Cam Newton, Carson Palmer, Aaron Rodgers, and Russell Wilson.
"I think he'll be excited about it, but I don't think he'll be satisfied with it," said my broadcast partner Dave Lapham. "I think if he had been able to play the entire season and had the playoffs that I think he might have had based on the way he was performing, he may have finished even higher.
"He was as good as there was in the NFL when the Bengals started out 8-0. He was in the conversation for MVP and rightfully so. I do think it was a year where he definitely grew."
Dalton ranked first in the AFC in passer rating and set a Bengals record at 106.3. He also established career highs in completion percentage (66.1%) and yards per attempt (8.42) and had a touchdown/interception ratio of 25 to 7.
"You just see his maturation over the years," former Steelers safety Will Allen told NFL Network. "From him changing the play calls to looking off defenders and NFL safeties – I think that's what he's evolved to over the years. The coaches are putting more in his hands and more on his shoulders and he's taking it like, 'I want it. Let's go.'"
In addition to his outstanding stats, the Bengals were 10-2 when Dalton broke his thumb. Cincinnati was the top playoff seed in the AFC at the time and shared the best record in the conference with Denver and New England.
"I felt like it was the best year of my career," said Dalton. "I never lacked confidence, but it gives you more confidence and shows other guys that you're doing the right things and trying to give your team the best possible chance to win."
This season, the 28-year-old from Katy, TX will have to deal with significant changes including the elevation of Ken Zampese from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator after Hue Jackson left to become the head coach of the Cleveland Browns.
"I love Hue and everything about Hue," said Lapham. "He's a dynamic leader and Hue got a lot out of Andy Dalton. But I think with Kenny, there's going to be more room for Andy Dalton's personality to come out to the football team, because Hue was such a people person and such an animated guy and knew all the buttons to push. He was vociferous you know? There wasn't a whole lot of room left. Kenny's not that type of guy and that gives Andy more space in the room to take that to another level. So I wouldn't be surprised to see that part of his game grow as well as his on-field stuff."
"Our quarterback continues to blossom with his own leadership and his personality," said head coach Marvin Lewis. "Kenny provides a new space for him to continue to do that."
Dalton will also have to adjust to the loss of free agent wide receivers Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu. Newcomers Brandon LaFell and Tyler Boyd are expected to help replace that duo and both say they've been impressed with Dalton's timing and accuracy during OTAs and minicamp.
"His ball placement is automatic every time," said LaFell.
"As soon as I get out of my break and turn my head around the ball is coming," said Boyd. "You know when a quarterback's timing is on. When you don't get a chance to actually see him throw it and when you look back in the air it's already coming.
"You just have to do your assignment. I know that if I do my job he is going to do his for sure."
In recent years, the national narrative has been "Bengals will go as far as Dalton will take them," and questioned Andy's ability to lead the team to postseason success. Dalton's exceptional play in 2015 quieted many of his critics, but he knows that overall theme remains.
"Usually the team goes as far as the quarterback will take them," he said. "I think that's a typical thing. Most teams that win the Super Bowl have a quarterback that's playing at a high level. You can think about it any way that you want, but I think most teams go as the quarterback goes."
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