Like TCU, talented Dalton has to fight for attention

by | The Sports Xchange/CBSSports.com
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If the NFL was truly all about winning, TCU quarterback Andy Dalton would be a surefire first-round pick.

The Horned Frogs' passer has more wins than any active quarterback in the country. He's tied with legendary Sammy Baugh for the most victories (29) ever by a TCU quarterback.

Andy Dalton, a projected fifth-round pick, is tied with Sammy Baugh for the most wins in TCU history. (AP)  
Andy Dalton, a projected fifth-round pick, is tied with Sammy Baugh for the most wins in TCU history. (AP)  
Dalton is far from just a game-managing quarterback on a well-stocked team. Recognized after last season as the Mountain West Conference Offensive Player of the Year, Dalton led TCU to an undefeated regular season and a berth against Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl. He was the team's most important player -- quite a statement considering TCU also boasted All-American defensive end Jerry Hughes, the Indianapolis Colts' first-round pick in April.

Some question how successful Dalton and TCU would be in the SEC or Big 12 as opposed to the MWC. Considering the Horned Frogs' success against BCS foes during head coach Gary Patterson's tenure (13-3 in their past 16 games), there is plenty of evidence to suggest that TCU is a very good team no matter the competition it's measured against.

"I understand why some doubt us, but there isn't any doubt in our locker room, regardless of who we play," Dalton said in a telephone interview. "The Clemson game last year, for example, was a lot of fun. Just the excitement of playing in an atmosphere like that. Not everyone gets a chance to do that. We were able to go there, play well in the rain and get the win [14-10]. It is definitely one of the more memorable games I've ever played in and showed that we can play with anyone."

Regardless of his gaudy win total and school-record 7,457 career passing yards, the 6-foot-2, 215-pound Dalton doesn't have prototype NFL quarterback measureables.

The combination of size, arm strength, accuracy and mobility has always been more important to NFL scouts than wins. To underscore the weight evaluators put in projecting players with ideal size -- even when they haven't had great success in terms of win-loss record -- take a closer look at the 2011 draft's QB class.

Dalton currently is rated by NFLDraftScout.com as a potential fifth-round selection and sixth among senior quarterbacks. Washington's Jake Locker, by comparison, is rated as NFLDraftScout.com's top prospect overall. In three seasons as the team's starting quarterback, Locker's Huskies have won nine games ... total.

Dalton is used to the perception that he lacks the measureables for the next level and not garnering the attention his production warrants. Despite leading Katy High School to the Texas state championship game and earning recognition as a finalist for the Texas Football 5A Player of the Year award as a senior, Dalton was ignored by traditional football powers.

In fact, the only D-I schools that recruited him were UTEP, Memphis and TCU.

Dalton enters the 2010 season as one of the nation's most efficient quarterbacks, having thrown interceptions on only 2.4 percent of his attempted passes (24 interceptions in 1,001 attempts). He has completed 60.2 percent of his passes and has thrown 44 touchdowns, including a career-high 23 last year as TCU head coach Gary Patterson gave Dalton more freedom within the offense.

A versatile athlete capable of beating the defense with his legs too, Dalton has rushed for 1,176 yards and 16 touchdowns. Obviously athletically gifted, Dalton nonetheless points to another area of his game that is his greatest asset -- not a monster arm or quick feet, but the element of leadership.

"I think I get a lot of the guys around me to respond to me and take their game to the next level," Dalton said. "I feel like my leadership role on the team has increased with each year and that I'm really taking control of the offense and the team as a whole. Stepping into that huddle when you're 19 and you're looking at guys who are 21, 22 and have already produced at this level, it is hard to take a leadership role like I think a quarterback needs to. Now that I'm older and have played in so many games, I'm comfortable getting after guys and demanding things from them."

Dalton's entire game fits perfectly at TCU -- both are all about defying expectations.

Unlike Boise State, Hawaii and other "BCS busters" of recent years, TCU doesn't operate out of a so-called "gimmick" offense. The TCU offense is so varied -- with elements of pro-style, option and spread sprinkled in -- that Dalton feels he projects nicely to the next level.

"I think it does show [scouts] that I can pick up different offenses and that I can help our team with my arm, legs and mind," said Dalton. "Another thing that helps is that our offense is so diverse. We go shotgun and take snaps from center. We run option. We run power. We do and have done so many different things. I think my experience in multiple offenses helps."

Dalton's success regardless of the offense is something that NFL scouts will value. Still, if Dalton is to significantly improve his draft stock, he might need a little help from outside the TCU campus. Former TCU greats LaDainian Tomlinson and Hughes each boosted their stock with strong showings at the postseason Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala. Dalton knows that no matter how successful he is this season with the Horned Frogs, some will still question how he'll perform against top competition.

"I'm hoping for an opportunity like [playing in an all-star game]," he said. "That is one thing I'd really like to experience. What an opportunity that would be to represent TCU and be able to show off my individual skills in that kind of environment."

If Dalton is, in fact, invited to an all-star game, one thing he doesn't worry about is sticking out. He hopes his athleticism and commitment to winning make positive impressions. If not, his bright red hair might grab some attention.

"I've found that it can be helpful. Back during recruiting I can remember coaches coming in and saying, 'Who's the redhead?'" Dalton recalled. "Hopefully, it will work out the same way again this year, except that they'll be NFL coaches asking the same thing."

Rob Rang is a Senior Analyst for NFLDraftScout.com distributed by The Sports Xchange.

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