October 21, 2014

Who Makes The Cut? QB Edition

With the draft now in the books, the Bengals have pretty well filled out their roster, which the NFL has now expanded to 90. We have a while of nothing more than guys-in-shorts, but really, is it ever too early to start tinkering around with how the final roster might shake out? Of course not!

Over the next couple of weeks I’ll be separating the known from the yet-to-be-seen on the roster and how I think things could shake out. Let’s begin with the field captains.

Quarterbacks
Starter On The Roster Camp Battle Long Shot
Andy Dalton Bruce Gradkowski Zac Robinson
Tony Pike
Tyler Hanson

Most teams carry three QBs, but last year the Bengals opted to keep just two so they could use the extra spot on another position. That made sense because, if the Bengals have to put their 3rd string QB in the game, there is almost no shot of winning. Could they make the same decision this year? (Would Sanu, who has played some QB, really be all that much worse than a 3rd stringer?)

Starter: Andy Dalton

Andy is the unquestioned starter, far exceeding the expectations of most in his rookie season. He threw for the 5th most yards by a rookie in NFL history. In any other year, his performance would have been a strong case for Rookie of the Year honors.

Despite his performance, the offense was only 20th in passing yds/game, 18th in points/game and 23rd in completion percentage. Some of that performance was on Jerome Simpson, Cedric Benson and others, but some of it has to go on Andy too. He was great for a rookie, but he can’t play like a rookie again this year. He has to improve. I believe he will.

Jay Gruden has five months to teach his full playbook, opening up the stripped down version demanded by the small offseason and rookie QB last year. Gruden’s creativity and Dalton’s execution need to move beyond the 7-yd hooks and 5-yd slants that Pittsburgh and Baltimore were anticipating and jumping. They need to seize the middle of the field to keep opposing defenses off balance.

Backup: Bruce Gradkowski

Either you like Bruce Gradkowski as the backup because he has some experience as a starter (20 games), or you don’t like him because you view him as a known (non-winning) commodity with little upside. The truth is in the middle. Yes, he is only 6-14 as a starter, and he is not going to win a lot of games on his own. But as a guy with NFL experience, he is also less likely to go out and lose a game than an inexperienced rookie, too.

Ask yourself this question. Who is a better backup: Gradkowski, Jordan Palmer or J.T. O’Sullivan? Gradkowski has flaws, but he is the best backup QB that the Bengals have had since Jon Kitna. For that reason I give him the inside track to be the guy behind Dalton.

Camp Battler: Zac Robinson

The predecessor to Cleveland’s new QB Brandon Weeden, Zac was drafted by The Hoodie in the 7th round in 2010, but he didn’t make their final roster. He was picked up by Seattle, and later Detroit, making no game appearances. He spent all of 2011 on the Bengals’ practice squad.

Robinson’s scouting report says some nice things… good pocket awareness, buys time with his feet, and puts great touch on the ball. But he also lacks important elements, like confidence, recognition of the defense, and looking off cover guys. So he has potential but needs lots of work with Ken Zampese.

Camp Battler: Tony Pike

Tony will get plenty of support from fans, being the “hometown hero” who led the Cincinnati Bearcats to a perfect 12-0 season in 2009 when he had an outstanding season. He was drafted by Carolina in 2010 (even though they had already drafted Jimmy Clausen in that draft) and appeared in only one game.

I like Tony. I think he has the best shot to stick if the Bengals decide to keep three QBs. But he is totally inexperienced, and his injury history is a real concern. I cannot see him beating out Gradkowski as the primary backup.

UDFA: Tyler Hansen

Hansen was the QB for the 3-10 Colorado Buffalos in 2011. His scouting report reads much like my own assessment of Jordan Palmer. He needs a pocket and a good passing lane to succeed. Put pressure on him and he falls apart. The kid has an uphill battle just to make the practice squad.

In the end, I suspect that Marvin and the coaching staff will decide to go into the season with just two QBs, Dalton and Gradkowski. An extra DB or WR on the roster will bring more value than a 3rd string clipboard commando will.

Who do you think the Bengals will keep at QB behind Andy? Gradkowski only? Pike only? Pike and Robinson, cutting Grakowski?