Andy Dalton Fantasy 2013Things are about to change for Andy Dalton in Cincinnati.

After two consecutive trips to the playoffs on the back of statistically solid years in a fairly conservative and pedestrian offense, it looks like the Bengals are about to open things up. From a fantasy football standpoint, Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton stands to gain the most from them doing so.

Despite the respectable numbers that Dalton put up in 2012, the Bengals still had some deficiencies in their passing game. Of his 3,669 passing yards, Bengal running backs were only on the receiving end of 259 of those. Cincinnati addressed that concern early on in the 2013 NFL Draft when they selected Giovani Bernard out of the University of North Carolina – the first running back off the baord. During the 2012 college season, Bernard caught 47 passes for 490 yards and five touchdowns. Look for Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden to figure out ways to integrate that same kind of production into the Cincinnati offensive scheme as he puts more on Dalton’s plate in the passing game.

Another area where Cincinnati struggled in 2012 was scoring in the red zone. They finished 17th in the league last season in terms of red zone scoring percentage. Much of that had to do with the number (or lack thereof) of viable targets at Dalton’s disposal. After A.J. Green’s 11 scores, the next highest touchdown reception total from a Bengal receiver came from tight end Jermaine Gresham, who caught five scores.

Cincinnati made an attempt to also address this problem through the draft by selecting Tyler Eifert of Notre Dame. The 6’6, 250 pound tight end was a matchup nightmare for Notre Dame opponents over the past three seasons. Linebackers had trouble matching his speed while corners and safeties had a hard time beating him on jump balls. Quite simply, he is a red zone nightmare for opposing defensive coordinators to gameplan for.

Tthe Bengals just added two rookie weapons to the arsenal of a quarterback already completing over 62 percent of his passes while tossing 27 touchdowns — good enough for seventh in the NFL in 2012. You have to assume both Eifert and Gresham will be on the field at the same time during most of Cincinnati’s red zone trips. That should help the Bengals convert on more visits inside the 20.

The maturation of second-year receiver Mohamed Sanu should also help with that task. Sanu started to get involved and show decent production in the middle of 2012 before breaking his foot. He’ll be back at full speed by the start of the season and provides Dalton with yet another big body to target in the red zone.

Also working in Dalton’s favor in 2013 will be the Cincinnati defense. Led by All-Pro defensive tackle Geno Atkins, this Bengal unit has the look of a team that could finish near the top of the league in total defense. As an added bonus, there is not a true explosive offense in the AFC North that the Bengals will have to worry about shutting down. This means Dalton is not likely to find himself in many shootouts outside of his games against Green Bay and New England. That alone should reduce the number of times he has to press and force unnecessary passes, which should translate to a reduction in interceptions.

Looking at Dalton’s progression from year one to year two and given the new weapons at his disposal, I project him to throw for somewhere in the neighborhood of 4200 yards and 32 touchdowns while dropping his interception total to around 12. These numbers would vault him into the top 8-10 quarterbacks in the league as far as passing stats go, making him a candidate to be a QB1 in any league greater than 10 teams. Considering that Dalton’s current ADP is 15 among quarterbacks and 124 overall in the standard 12-team format, he has to be considered a steal.

Right now in fantasy football draft rooms across the country, five defenses are being selected ahead of Andy Dalton. That tells me that there may not be a more undervalued player in fantasy football than the Cincinnati quarterback. I wouldn’t gamble on waiting for him to fall to you in the tenth round, but if he does.. your’re laughing