Originally posted on Football Nation  |  Last updated 6/14/12

With all the talk about picking up a top-end quarterback in the first couple rounds, a player I’ve noticed that has been left out of the discussion is Cincinnati Bengals QB Andy Dalton.

Dalton surprised everyone last year by putting up 3,398 passing yards and 20 touchdowns in the 15 games that he started as a rookie. he is only the third rookie quarterback to ever surpass the 3,000-yard mark.

Putting up numbers such as these while being a rookie quarterback is uncommon but, to do it while playing against three of the top four passing defenses in the league (Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Baltimore) for a third of his games is even more incredible.

Looking at the stats I believe Dalton can not only match his fantasy total of last year, but improve on it in his sophomore year.

During the 2011 regular season, the combined average of the three defenses would allow for 184.9 passing yards to opposing quarterbacks. Dalton was, on average, able to put up 236 passing yards against these teams during the five games he played against them. For a rookie quarterback to have the poise and skill set to consistently do well against the top defenses in the league is remarkable.

What makes me think that Dalton can do even better is that 1) he will already have a full season under his belt and 2) the Bengals' organization has quietly put in place some key players to balance the offense out. Having those 15 games of experience, plus some postseason experience, gives Dalton the confidence and reassurement that he belongs with the rest of the top signal-callers of the league.

I know Cincinnati lost two key offensive linemen in Bobbie Williams and Nate Livings, but they added Travelle Warton and Kevin Zeitler. Williams and Livings are great pass blocking guards as well as Warton and Zeitler but, Wharton and Zeitler offer more to the run protection than the other two.

Former New England Patriots running back, BenJarvus Green-Ellis - who has never fumbled in his NFL career - also signed with the Bengals this offseason. Green-Ellis will more than likely be splitting the carries with aging Cedric Benson (30 years old), which will allow for a much improved running game. While the running game has seen improvements, this will also benefit Dalton.

If you look at the five games mentioned before against the top defenses, the Bengals won just one of them, and that was against the Browns. In each of the games they lost, a running back never put up more than 57 yards in a game but, if you look at the game they won, a running back broke the 100-yard mark.

I believe that with this improved running game Dalton will find more success in running the play-action more than he did in the 2011 year, which will allow for big plays to be made down the field. From a fantasy perspective, the more big plays that are made - the more fantasy points your player will receive. 

Also, opposing defenses will have to focus more on the running game by stacking the box which would allow for Dalton to find the one-on-one matchup down the field. This would allow for a greater amount of plays to be made to receivers up the middle since the opposing linebackers would be forced to play the run first, thus taking them out of position to break up the pass over the top.

With receivers such as A.J. Green, Andrew Hawkins, Mohamed Sanu, and Jermaine Gresham in the starting lineup, Dalton should be able to find the open target and make plays down the field.

Dalton has already proven that he is capable of playing against the best defenses, and he will have to do so again in 2012 if he wants to increase on his numbers from last year. With a year under his belt and some newly added talent around him, I believe Dalton is a legitimate No. 1 QB in fantasy land who will be a great value pick as he won’t come off the board until the 11-14th round (if he even gets drafted). Don’t sleep on this sophomore QB!

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