Cam Newton: Fantasy Draft Value, Red Flags and Predictions for Panthers QB

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Cam Newton: Fantasy Draft Value, Red Flags and Predictions for Panthers QB
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Nobody saw Cam Newton coming last season. This year, all eyes are on the electrifying quarterback for the Carolina Panthers

The hype couldn't be greater. The questions for fantasy owners couldn't be more plentiful. Can he repeat his astonishing rookie season? Is he a good value based on where he's currently being drafted? Will he improve as a passer? Will he see his production drop as a runner?

He's one of the most dynamic players in the game. Whether he's one of the most dynamic fantasy performers again this year is another matter altogether.

 

Fantasy Strengths

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Oh, let's see. He was a rookie last year and passed for 4,051 yards, rushed for 706 and scored 35 total touchdowns, 14 of them on the ground.

He's big, fast and powerful, meaning he doesn't appear to be a huge injury risk and shouldn't see his impact as a runner lessened anytime soon. The Panthers and offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski are building a system around him suited to his talents.

And Newton seems motivated and hungry to continuously improve, not resting on his laurels after an amazing rookie season. 

He looked sharp in Friday's game against the Miami Dolphins, and the Panthers have become a vogue pick to challenge for a playoff spot this season. Newton should be an improved passer, and hopefully he'll limit the turnovers in his second year after giving up the rock 20 times last year.

Newton will be a better football player in 2012. But it remains to be seen if he'll be a better fantasy option.

 

Fantasy Weaknesses

Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Any time you're drafting a quarterback because of his abilities as a running threat, you're taking a risk. And Newton was historically good as a runner in 2011, rushing for 14 touchdowns (a record for quarterbacks) and 706 yards.

The yards he can replicate. The 14 touchdowns seem unlikely to be matched.

Consider that famous rushing quarterbacks like Randall Cunningham, Michael Vick and Steve Young never even reached double digits in rushing touchdowns, or that the previous record (12 by Steve Grogan) stood since 1976.

Heck, Adrian Peterson has only rushed for more than 14 touchdowns once in his career (18 in 2009). In other words, what Newton did last season was pretty crazy. 

And with Mike Tolbert sure to see a lot of work at the goal line this season, Newton's effectiveness as a rusher might take a serious hit as well.

But his passing numbers could see a drop as well. Setting another record by passing for 4,051 yards—more than any other rookie in NFL history—was impressive, but he padded his stats in the first quarter of the season.

Newton had 1,386 passing yards in his first four games (346.5 yards per game), and his first two games alone were good for 854 yards. After that he regressed, finishing with just 2,665 yards in his next 12 contests (222.1 yards per game).

Yes, he was a rookie last season and should improve as a passer, but what do you think was more indicative of his rookie campaign, those first four games or the rest of his season?

With that in mind, keep your expectations for his passing marks realistic.

 

Film Study

Much of what the ESPN folks talk about goes hand-in-hand with points I made above. But I think the salient point from this analysis comes from KC Joyner, who discusses the discrepancy of vertical passes from the beginning of the season to the latter portions of last year's campaign.

Those huge numbers in passing yards last season came from a system that allowed for a ton of vertical passes down the field. The Panthers became more conservative later in the season, mostly because defenses adjusted.

But keep in mind that Newton threw nine interceptions in his first six games. One would imagine the Panthers wanted to reel him in and change the gun-slinging mentality.  

 

Draft Day Value

Jeremy Brevard-US PRESSWIRE

If you are going to land Newton, you're going to have to do so early. In ESPN snake drafts, he has an average draft position of 16.3, meaning you better snag him in the second round if you want him.

So how bad do you want him?

NFL history suggests Newton's fantasy numbers will take a hit this season based solely on his rushing touchdowns. Sure, he might be the player that changes the way we think about quarterbacks and come close to equaling his huge numbers from a year ago.

But it's far more likely he'll score about half the rushing touchdowns and see his fantasy value take a dive. Grab him quickly if you must have him, but be aware of the risks.

 

Tweet That Says It All

Ben Volin of The Palm Beach Post keeps things simple for us:

For all of the analysis above, the fact remains that Newton shocked us once. What's to say he doesn't have another historical season up his sleeve?

 

Predictions

Jeremy Brevard-US PRESSWIRE

Games Pass Yards Pass TDs Rush Yards Rush TDs Turnovers
16 3850 23 800 8 17

 

There is no question that Newton will be a fantasy factor this year. I fully believe he'll be a smarter, better-prepared quarterback this year that will reduce his turnovers and run the offense smoothly.

How many rushing touchdowns will Cam Newton have in 2012?

Submit Vote vote to see results

But there's just no way he can repeat his fantasy output from a year ago or justify a selection with a second-round pick. Call it what you want—a sophomore slump, a natural regression back toward the historical mean, defenses that won't be surprised by a thing he tries—but Newton is set to take a step back in the fantasy world.

Sure, I'm afraid to bet against him. Yes, I believe he has that "it" factor to be truly special, and I understand people taking a risk on him.

But for my money, there are far more reliable quarterbacks you can snag with a first- or second-round pick. Newton is being overvalued, and for this season, I'm not buying.

 

Hit me up on Twitter—my tweets are cracking like a Ronda Rousey armbar.

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