I wasn't taken aback with all the off-the-field issues; if anything, I think the poise Cam Newton had through all the scrutiny only bolstered his draft stock.
It wasn't all the "entertainer and icon" talk either. If anything, that's exactly what the Panthers have needed—a face, a larger than life personality that has the guts to rise up, call a team his own and face the spotlight.
Almost every successful team has such a figure; it's what Peyton is (or was) to the Colts, Brady to the Pats, Ray Lewis to the Ravens...you get my drift. The Panthers haven't really had anyone like that in years, maybe ever.
Sure, you can look at Steve Smith earlier on his career, maybe even Julius Peppers, but Carolina has long needed someone to step up and be the face of their football franchise.
And I wasn't one of those people who was skeptical of Cam's extremely sudden (albeit successful) rise to football prominence on the college football scene. Watching him play, you knew he didn't need any more than one year to showcase the immense athletic ability he brought to the quarterback position.
Looking back, I can't even be sure what exactly made my stomach churn when the Panthers took Cam first overall, but those butterflies are long gone.
Cam Newton simply blew everyone away in Carolina. He had arguably one of the best rookie campaigns ever in an offense that ranked last in the NFL the previous year. The Auburn prodigy revitalized the team's offense, a disgruntled star wide receiver in Steve Smith and an entire franchise that was searching for a new direction.
The numbers speak for themselves: 4,051 passing yards (a rookie record), 35 total touchdowns (his 14 rushing scores are the most in a single season by any NFL quarterback ever), a Pro Bowl selection and a plethora of other rookie, NFL and franchise records too long to list here.
But they don't tell the whole story. We witnessed Cam develop into a fierce leader who hated to lose and was willing to shoulder the responsibility of carrying the Panthers. He became the focal point in what developed into one of the NFL's most dynamic offenses, and showed everyone he had what it takes to develop into one of the league's elite quarterbacks.
Of course there are always areas to improve, most notably in the medium passing game. Newton completed just 50 percent of passes thrown 11-20 yards downfield and connected on just 47 percent of his passes thrown over the middle of the field.
The touch on his deep ball is terrific and he ranked in the NFL's top-10 for yards per attempt and pass attempts over 20 yards, but we saw him overthrow some easy routes over the middle.
He also needs to learn how to finish stronger. If you look at the league's top quarterbacks in 2011—Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees—their respective passer ratings in the second half were 108.8, 121.1 and 113.2.
Even more noteworthy, those numbers are all higher than their ratings in the first half of games. While Cam's rating in the game's first 30 minutes is 95.6, that number drops to just 73.5 in the second half.
But I'm confident those numbers will improve. It's easy to forget he was just a rookie and is bound to undergo some growing pains, with his best football still to come. There really is no other grade you can give the man who came into Carolina shrouded in doubt and questions, and played as well as he did in his rookie year.
2011 Performance Grade: A, without a doubt.
UP NEXT: The running backs