For those not entirely plugged into the bonus levels of the internet, the "Dalton Scale" is a term coined by Chris Wessling of the Around the NFL Podcast. Simply put, if your starting quarterback is worse than Andy Dalton, you need a new quarterback; and anyone above that line is a long-term option and/or a potential Franchise piece. Sparing yourself the toil of ranking some 15 or so middle-of-the-road QBs to jostle Dalton's ranking up or down 4 spots would be a good idea here. Just accept that Andy Dalton, despite having his best year last year, statistically, is basically the standard by which all potential Franchise QBs are measured. But if it makes you more comfortable to insert Alex Smith as the new prime meridian, then go ahead and do that.
Sam Bradford has never been above Dalton-level on this scale. Even during his Offensive Rookie of the Year campaign, Bradford wasn't considered a top 15 QB in the league despite throwing the ball 590 times; third most in the league behind Drew Brees and Peyton Manning. Now the reasons for Bradford being type-cast as average (or a 'JAG') are many, varied, justifiable, and conclusive, depending on who you ask. One thing that isn't debatable is that Sam Bradford landed in one of the least attractive situations a quarterback could find himself in when he was selected #1 overall in the 2010 NFL Draft. To be fair, it's often the case that a QB drafted #1 overall is going to end up in a situation that warrants an uphill climb, but Sam Bradford's jumping off point was followed by a rapid descent. By the time he took the field for his 33rd career start, Bradford had cycled through 2 Head Coaches, 3 Offensive Coordinators, 30 receiving targets, and 23 offensive linemen. None of whom, to this day, were considered game-changers; with the exception of maybe, Brandon Lloyd. Any fan with even a passing interest in objectivity would agree, this isn't conducive to long-term (or even short-term) success.
The last (or most recent) quarterback for the Rams Franchise who could be positioned on the positive side of the Dalton scale would be Marc Bulger. In 2003, only 2 quarterbacks threw for over 4000 yards, and Marc Bulger was nipping at their heels with 3845 of his own - good for 3rd on the NFL passing yardage list at the time. In 2004, Bulger ranked 6th on the NFL passing yardage list, and led the Rams to what still remains their last playoff appearances. Following an injury-riddled down year in 2005, Bulger rebounded nicely in 2006 with career highs in passing yards (4,301) and touchdowns (24) while playing in 16 games for the first time in his career. In this span, Marc Bulger had reached 10,000 yards passing in just 38 games. Faster than Peyton Manning (39) and just as quickly as Dan Marino (38). Despite what any tenured Rams fan may think, many analysts and NFL executives would risk building an NFL offense around Marc Bulger at the time that Marc was considered to be in his prime.
(Insert obligatory reference to Kurt Warner's remarkableness here to dispel any perceived slight on my part as a result of his omission in this article).
And moving on...
Over the past 10 years, and for all of the known reasons, the Rams have not had a quarterback who could be considered a Franchise passer as defined by the Dalton Scale. Sam Bradford had the promise, the tools, and the requisite measurables, but the stars simply didn't align with him; and because of his injury history, the Rams were forced to cycle through Dalton-Scale Southern Dwellers A.J. Feeley, Kellen Clemens, Shaun Hill, Austin Davis, Nick Foles and Case Keenum. All of whom did an admirable job of playing within the constraints of their relative mediocrity.
Well, times they are a changin'. Because, well, times they have to change. For the second time in 6 years, the Rams have pinned their future hopes on a ready-made Franchise quarterback by expending the #1 overall pick in the draft. The first time it cost the Rams over sixty million dollars. This time, however, it cost nearly the equivalent in draft capital spread out over two years coupled with a more palatable salary. That said, the environment that Jared Goff will find himself in is arguably orders of magnitude better than the situation Sam Bradford found himself in. The defense is certainly better. The receivers are certainly better. Special Teams are certainly better. The run game is certainly better. The Coaching is certainly better.
Yes it is too.
In order for Jared Goff to land north of Andy Dalton this year, however, a perfect storm of chemistry, continuity, player development, player health, execution, and lucky bounces will have to descend upon Los Angeles regularly, all year long. Because the odds of a rookie quarterback orchestrating an offense with young receivers and new targets effectively and efficiently over the course of a year are pretty low. That's not to say it can't be done, but the odds really are fairly slim - especially if you consider that over the past decade there hasn't been a winning tradition to fall back on. But wait. There are some saving graces that fans can pin their hopes on. The Rams went 7-9 last year with Nick Foles and Case Keenum. There was only a -3.1 point differential on the year between points scored and points allowed (again, with Nick Foles and Case Keenum). They were 4-2 in the division. Todd Gurley will absolutely give Jared Goff the freedom to exploit single coverage early on. For all we know, Rob Boras could be to Jared Goff as Jim Bob Cooter is to Matthew Stafford. Under Cooter, a first-time Offensive Coordinator who was promoted from QB Coach, Stafford posted career bests in completion percentage (67.2%) and QBR (67.6). And finally, the Rams' offense is the very definition of balanced; and as such, Goff won't have to shoulder the load. He'll simply have to be better than his predecessors.
BOTTOM LINE: Jared Goff will need to at least surpass 3200 yards passing, throw 25 touchdowns, have a low int% a high QBR, and lead the Rams to the playoffs for the first time in a decade in order to move off of the Andy Dalton line in a positive direction. This year? Probably not, but the Rams have made a concerted effort to draft and develop groups of players in the most important positions, and they have the potential to develop, together, over the course of the next several years. If that development is accelerated this year, then sure - anything can happen. The hope, though, is that the Rams have found themselves that once in a generation talent who can facilitate that accelerated timetable and place himself in the upper echelon of not Andy Daltons. If that comes to pass, then everyone associated with his ascent will become geniuses by default.