Rookie Meter: Dalton getting wins, franchise's confidence

Posted Oct. 18, 2011 @ 5:50 p.m.
Posted By Kevin Fishbain

How smart do the Bengals look now?

Just two days after improving to 4-2 in rookie QB Andy Dalton's best game yet, the Bengals traded disgruntled QB Carson Palmer to the Raiders for at least one first-round pick and possibly two, according to reports.

Think Cincy is pleased with the decision to go with Dalton?

The red-headed TCU grad completed 25-of-32 passes for 264 yards and a touchdown in the 27-17 win over the Colts on Sunday. Suddenly, the Bengals are on a three-game winning streak, and Dalton is now in the Rookie of the Year hunt.

Cam Newton still has the edge over Palmer, but Dalton has just as many touchdowns and four fewer picks. More importantly for Dalton, he clearly has the confidence of his organization behind him. Dalton's rookie teammate, WR A.J. Green, the team's first-round pick, has certainly helped his cause with four touchdowns.

Six quarterbacks were taken in the first 36 picks of April's draft. Three are starting, and another, Christian Ponder, appears to be on the verge of taking over in Minnesota. Last season, seven different rookie QBs started a game. Of those seven, only Sam Bradford and Tim Tebow will be starting this Sunday.

The 2011 draft class of signalcallers is off to a much better start, and Dalton's 4-2 record as a starter gives him bragging rights at the moment.

1. Panthers QB Cam Newton (first round, first overall)
Last week's ranking: 1

Newton continues to be exciting to watch, but he needs to protect the ball better. He completed 21-of-35 passes for 237 yards, zero touchdowns and three interceptions, giving him nine INTs on the year. He is tied with Rex Grossman for the most picks in the league. Newton got it done with his legs, rushing for 50 yards and a score on six carries, but his team continues to lose. His grasp on the top spot is weaker than it was last week.

2. Broncos OLB Von Miller (1, 2)
Last week's ranking: 2

The Broncos had a bye in Week Six. Miller should be able to rack up some pressures against the Dolphins if he rushes against ORT Marc Colombo. Should he be matched up with OLT Jake Long, it will be a tough test for the rookie.

3. Bengals WR A.J. Green (1, 4)
Last week's ranking: 3

Green went up and snagged his fourth touchdown of the season on a jump ball thrown by Dalton. He finished the game with five catches for 51 yards on seven targets. With Julio Jones out with an injury, Green is separating himself as the league's top rookie receiver. 

4. 49ers OLB Aldon Smith
Last week's ranking: 10

Smith shoots up the rankings after a stellar game on Sunday. He had four tackles, two sacks, a pass defensed, a forced fumble and a safety. On the safety, Smith made a quick move to blow past OLT Jeff Backus and sack Matthew Stafford. He took over as the rookie leader with 5½ sacks.

5. Redskins OLB Ryan Kerrigan (1, 16)
Last week's ranking: 5

Kerrigan was active in the Redskins' loss to the Eagles, recording five tackles and a pair of QB hits. Another mobile quarterback, fellow rookie Cam Newton, will test Kerrigan in Week Seven.

6. Falcons WR Julio Jones (1, 6)
Last week's ranking: 4

Jones missed Week Six with a hamstring injury. His status for a Week Seven game in Detroit is unclear, and with a bye coming in Week Eight, the Falcons may hold him out. Jones was right there with Green, battling for the title of top rookie receiver, but he will slide down the meter until he gets back on the field.

7. Bills DL Marcell Dareus (1, 3)
Last week's ranking: 6

Dareus had a stout game in the Bills' loss to the Giants and is being a force on every down. He had four tackles and a tackle for loss, and according to Pro Football Focus, Dareus registered five hurries. The run defense still needs to improve, but Dareus had to pick up extra slack with NT Kyle Williams out.

8. Bengals QB Andy Dalton (2, 35)
Last week's ranking: NR

Dalton has been poised and clutch in the Bengals' three-game winning streak. Colleague Eric Edholm discussed Dalton's performance as part of his weekly "Shorts and Shells" column and video. Dalton is also getting what Newton has not — the support of a good defense to claim victories.

9. Texans DE J.J. Watt (1, 11)
Last week's ranking: 7

The Texans are on the downswing of late, as is Watt's spot on the meter. He continues to be effective but hasn't been making big plays of late while other rookies have. Watt finished with three tackles in the loss to the Ravens. It will be key for the former Badger to step up with Mario Williams out for the season.

10. Seahawks WR Doug Baldwin (undrafted)
Last week's ranking: NR

Baldwin's Seahawks had a bye in Week Six, and we will find out in Week Seven against the Browns if Charlie Whitehurst, assuming he starts, can help Baldwin continue his early success.

On the cusp (listed alphabetically)

Buccaneers DE Adrian Clayborn (1, 20)
Buccaneers MLB Mason Foster (3, 84)
Saints RB Mark Ingram (1, 28)
Browns WR Greg Little (2, 59)
Raiders WR Denarius Moore (5, 148)
Cardinals CB Patrick Peterson (1, 5)
Browns DE Jabaal Sheard (2, 37)
Browns DT Phil Taylor (1, 21)
Dolphins RB Daniel Thomas (2, 62)
Jets DE Muhammad Wilkerson (1, 30)


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