Year three for an NFL quarterback is crucial. By this time an organization should know whether it’s time to buy or sell on its leader under center.
In honor of Halloween, we’ll take a look at a trio of third-year QBs and determine whether they are “tricks” or “treats” to their respective teams.
Andy Dalton (Bengals) - Treat
Andy Dalton has been the ultimate ”Jekyll and Hyde” quarterback this season. In weeks four and five the TCU-product led the Cincinnati offense to just 30 points with no touchdowns in either game. Confidence in the 2011 second round pick was fading. But Andy has turned things around. In the three weeks since, Dalton has passed for at least 300 yards and three touchdowns (all wins) including a brilliant five-touchdown performance against the Jets last week. Dalton is on pace for a 4,498-yard passing season, which would be 823 yards better than his career-high. It seems as if he is finally taking advantage of all the weapons he has in his arsenal.
I know it’s an annoying NFL cliche but “it’s a quarterback league,” and there’s no better example than Dalton and the Bengals. To me other than Denver, Cincinnati boasts the best offensive lineup in football. But when Dalton is timid and indecisive he drags his squad down with him. Dalton has led Cincy to the postseason in each of his first two seasons with the Bengals (lost in first round both years), but at 6-2 (currently No. 2 seed) the Bengals hope to make a real run in the 2013 playoffs. The only way that can become a reality is if we see more of Dalton from the last three weeks, and I think that will happen. Paired with its stout defense Cincinnati should make a deep run in the playoffs, locking Dalton into the organization for many years to come.
Jake Locker (Titans) - Trick
After two very underwhelming years to start his career Jake Locker’s stock is on the rise. Yes injuries are still an issue for the 2011 eighth overall pick, but Locker is showing signs of development. Jake played in 11 games last season tossing 10 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. He is on a much better pace this year. Locker has nearly eclipsed his TD total with eight scores in just five games and only one interception. Locker’s improvement is keeping Tennessee in the hunt. At 3-4 the Titans sit second in the AFC South and just one game out of a wildcard spot.
But is Locker worth sticking with?
The former Husky is going to need a big second half to convince me he can be a franchise quarterback. A 2013 postseason bid would be a huge help. His receiving corps is nowhere near the caliber of Dalton’s, but Locker is completing a career-high 61.8 percent of his passes. The key here is whether Locker can stay on the field. All this improvement is worth nothing if he can’t go on Sundays. He’s already missed two games this season, so he has to make up for lost time. But the Titans schedule may not help. Tennessee still has two games left with the Colts, plus match ups against Arizona and at Denver and Oakland. As the season rolls on I see Tennessee finishing at 7-9 at best. I really don’t see the Titans sticking with a running quarterback who can’t stay off the injury report.