The loss of Steve Smith was a tough blow for Newton. Superman's cape was tugged a little when he had to undergo ankle surgery. He also missed out on the first preseason game and thus crucial time to gain chemistry with his new receivers.
But through all of that, Newton is still as talented as ever and a viable option for fantasy owners. Though seeing limited action, he showed that on Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs, per the Panthers' account:
The first concern for fantasy fans will be the ankle injury. Though he clearly had some cobwebs to shake off against the Chiefs, Newton appeared to answer that concern over the weekend.
Despite overthrowing some passes—one to Kelvin Benjamin stood out—Newton progressed throughout the game. If he can continue to round back into form in his second preseason game against the New England Patriots, Newton will be primed for a good start to the season.
Stephania Bell, ESPN's injury analyst, also believes that Newton will keep improving:
Good to see QB Cam Newton take "rehab" to next level by playing in game. Looked better as time went on. Will continue to get stronger.— Stephania Bell (@Stephania_ESPN) August 18, 2014
Though the injury concerns are worth mentioning, Newton looks back on track of late.
Next on the list for owners looking at Newton is the depleted wide receiver group. With Smith now with the Baltimore Ravens, Brandon LaFell with the Patriots and Ted Ginn with the Arizona Cardinals, the team's top three wideouts from 2013 have all left Charlotte.
What people forget is just how poor that receiving corps was in the first place. Outside of Smith, who is now 35 years old, none of last year's receivers were explosive for Newton or the Panthers on a regular basis.
Another point typically left out of this argument is that the leading target for Newton is still in Carolina. His name is Greg Olsen, and he finished 2013 with the most receptions (73), receiving yards (816) and touchdowns (six) for the Panthers.
While Olsen missed Newton's first preseason game, he returned to practice on Tuesday, per Steve Reed of the Associated Press:
Nate Chandler, Charles Johnson, Trai Tuner and Chase Blackburn still out for Panthers. Greg Olsen back to work.— Steve Reed (@SteveReedAP) August 19, 2014
Along with Olsen, Newton also appears to have a good rapport with his new receivers. In particular, Newton and Benjamin are like two peas in an NFL pod so far in training camp.
The Panthers' franchise quarterback spoke about his chemistry with the rookie, per Reed:
We respect each other enough to be able kick it with each other, but also push each other to be great. We've got that unique relationship that we hold each other to a standard. ...
I've only got one beef with Benji, and he knows it. I have to remind him, every single thing that he won in college I won, too.
Even though Benjamin caught the game-winning touchdown in the national championship game against Auburn—Newton's former team—it's clear they've worked past that.
Benjamin has also shown plenty of talent thus far, scoring a touchdown in the preseason opener. While he will still need time to fully replace Smith in Carolina fans' hearts, Benjamin can be an X-factor for the Panthers this year.
He's had such a big impact that his presence made Dave Richard of CBSSports.com re-evaluate Newton's stock:
I've been outspoken about my fears for Cam Newton this season: New receiving corps he hasn't meshed with, coming off of ankle surgery, offensive line issues and a track record of declining rushing numbers for Fantasy. But the addition of Kelvin Benjamin is forcing me to re-evaluate Newton.
Is Newton a valuable fantasy quarterback for 2014?
Heading into the season, I currently have Newton as the No. 6 quarterback in fantasy. Outside of the obvious top three—Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers—he's just behind Andrew Luck and Matthew Stafford at the position.
With an average draft position of 7.10, that makes Newton a steal behind the likes of Nick Foles and Robert Griffin III. Both of those quarterbacks have high expectations to live up to, while Newton has huge upside and dual-threat ability.
Getting Newton in the middle rounds leaves plenty of options at the top of the draft. With slim pickings at running back, shoring up the position early and waiting on Newton late will pay off this season.
Equipped with Olsen and Benjamin along with experienced veteran Jerricho Cotchery, Newton still has the weapons around him to be explosive. And as he continues to grow after the ankle injury, the signal-caller has a chance to win fantasy leagues for owners.
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