Fantasy Impact: Andy Dalton Signs with Bears (2021 Fantasy Football)
And just like that, Chicago has a new quarterback for 2021. In a move that sent shockwaves throughout the fantasy community and social media alike, Andy Dalton agreed to a one-year, $10M deal with the Bears. What can we expect from Dalton and the Bears’ skill-position players from a fantasy standpoint in 2021? Let’s get into it!
Expectation vs. Reality
There are two ways to be happy: improve your reality, or lower your expectations – Jodi Picoult
It’s arguable whether or not Chicago improved its reality, but it’s clear at this point that Bears fans should lower their expectations, if for nothing else, to improve their mental health. Chicago was linked to numerous trade rumors involving superstars Russell Wilson and Deshaun Watson, but those rumors and any hope they brought with them were quickly dashed with news of the Dalton signing. Had Chicago never been linked to Watson or Wilson, Dalton’s arrival would likely be viewed as business as usual for a team that hasn’t gotten the quarterback right in three decades. With hope and reasonable expectations usually come disappointment for fans of this franchise.
Dalton vs. Trubisky
Dalton will replace Mitchell Trubisky as the Bears’ starting quarterback, so how do the two stack up? Below are their career per-16-game averages, percentages, and yards per attempt.
As we can see from the comparison above, Dalton is statistically a better quarterback for fantasy purposes, but the two aren’t light years apart in terms of talent, accuracy, or production. Dalton had productive years in Cincinnati and finished as a QB1 multiple times early in his career. His best seasons came with Marvin Jones and prime A.J. Green as his go-to receivers, and while he’ll have a No. 1 receiver in Allen Robinson to force feed, his receiving corps as a whole is one of the weakest he’s ever played with. Will Dalton be an upgrade over Trubisky? Sure, but it’s not going to be night and day. Will he be an improvement over Nick Foles? Yes, and there’s a much bigger gap here, but Foles played putrid football in seven starts last season.
What can Dalton do in Chicago?
In nine starts with the Cowboys in 2020, Dalton’s per-16-game stats were 3,660 passing yards, 25 touchdowns, and 14 interceptions. Those per-16 numbers through nine seasons with the Bengals: 3,801 passing yards, 24 touchdowns, 14 interceptions. This is who Dalton is, and it’s not likely he changes his ways 11 years into his career with yet another new team and offensive scheme to learn.
Over the last two seasons, Chicago has thrown the ball an average of 597 times. Dalton’s career-high in passing attempts (586) came way back in 2013, but for the sake of argument, let’s say the Bears let him rip it 600 times in 2021. Based on his career averages (4.6 TD%, 2.6 INT%, 7.1 Y/A), his most optimistic outlook is 4,260 yards, 28 TDs, 16 INTs. Let’s also say he hits his career rushing averages (148 yards, 2 TDs). Those numbers work out to 293.2 fantasy points, which would have been good enough to finish as QB13 in 2020. It’s not easy to get excited about a guy who’s very best outlook is QB13. It’s even more difficult to get excited when you realize he was his average self in Dallas on a team sporting Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, Ezekiel Elliott, and Michael Gallup. He’ll shift to Allen Robinson, Tarik Cohen, David Montgomery, and… Darnell Mooney? Unless Chicago lands a high-caliber free-agent wideout, it looks like those will be Dalton’s top options with news that Anthony Miller could be on his way out of town.
Impact on receivers and running backs
The narrative that Allen Robinson has produced in spite of poor quarterback play throughout his career is one that’s becoming a broken record, but it’s certainly the truth. He’ll once again deal with mediocrity, but this time it’s in the form of Dalton. As outlined above, Dalton is an average quarterback with below-average accuracy who will be the next in line of a disappointing lineage of Bears quarterbacks. There’s no reason to expect Robinson not to produce again in 2021 after watching him go 102/1,250/6 last season while catching passes from Nick Foles and Mitchell Trubisky.
As for Darnell Mooney, he flashed talent and upside as a rookie, but he wasn’t able to overcome Chicago’s poor quarterback play. Maybe he’ll be able to do that in 2021, but it’s not a light ask. What of Cole Kmet? The rookie tight end impressed at times in 2020, but Dalton isn’t a quarterback who’s in love with throwing to the position. Throughout his tenure with the Bengals, Dalton’s targets to tight ends were consistently middle-of-the-pack to below-average, and Kmet will still have to compete with Jimmy Graham for targets (if Graham isn’t released). Any bump in production for Mooney or Kmet will be due to an increase in available targets more so than the new quarterback.
David Montgomery shouldn’t be impacted too heavily by Dalton, but he’s certainly in line to see a dip in production with Tarik Cohen set to make his return. Both backs should maintain similar value with Dalton under center as they did with Trubisky or Foles.
Signing Dalton is a lateral move by Chicago, and while he’ll be a step up from the horrendous quarterback play of 2020, he’s not a huge difference-maker or someone who will put the Bears over the top in the NFC. He’s not a guy who’s going to post gaudy numbers or vastly improve the fortunes of his pass-catchers. His arrival alone shouldn’t impact the outlooks of Allen Robinson, Darnell Mooney, or Cole Kmet, and Dalton shouldn’t be viewed as anything more than a streamer in the right matchup or a guy to target for backend QB2 value in Superflex leagues.
Way-Too-Early 2021 Projection: 3,900 yards, 23 TD, 13 INT
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