1. How we arrived at Cam Newton
The evolution probably began with Fran Tarkenton. He was fast and fairly accurate, one of the first true dual-threat quarterbacks, though without much size.
It continued with names like Roger Staubach and Detroit's Greg Landry. James Harris made the Pro Bowl in 1974 and remains one of the NFL's underrated pioneers—not only because he was the first black QB to start and win an NFL playoff game, but also because of his skill set.
Then there was John Elway. On and on the evolution went. QBs would get slightly faster, slightly stronger, slightly bigger, and eventually the throwing accuracy would catch up with the evolving prototype. Then, the evolution hit on two key players in the late '80s.
The first was Randall Cunningham, perhaps the most explosive running quarterback to play the game. Cunningham was not an accurate passer, but he turned average receivers into solid threats because defenses were so scared of his running ability. Opposing teams shifted resources to stopping him, allowing receivers to get open.
The second was Steve Young, and he was the real key in the evolution of the quarterback position to its current form—a form embodied by soon-to-be MVP and Super Bowl-favored Cam Newton.
In many ways, Young was the first Cam. Please let me explain.
Young was the first quarterback in history who was just as effective throwing from the pocket as he was running the ball. He won a record six passer-rating titles and retired with the most rushing TDs and second-most rushing yards (to Cunningham) for a quarterback in the Super Bowl era.
There have been other pivotal players along the evolution timeline—Kordell Stewart, Michael Vick, Steve McNair, Donovan McNabb, and now Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson—but Young was the key blip. He became the prototype.
And it's from that Young prototype that Newton evolved as the new prototype: a QB who can pass with accuracy, run explosively and has great physical size.
It's like the evolution went haywire. This latest step is the quarterback developmental equivalent of going from a Porsche (Young) to a starship that runs on a matter-antimatter drive (Newton).
Newton is 6'5" and weighs about 245 pounds. Bruce Smith, one of the best pass-rushers of all time, played at 6'4" and 265 pounds. So Newton is almost the same size as a Hall of Fame defensive end. Young, by comparison, is 6'2" and weighed 215 pounds when he played.
Young ran a 4.53 40-yard dash. Newton ran a 4.59 despite weighing some 30 pounds more. Wilson ran a 4.55, and Newton outweighs him by almost 40 pounds.
There has never been a quarterback as big, fast and powerful as Newton. None have even come close.
"He's probably the most dangerous quarterback in the NFL right now," Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib told reporters Monday.
"He is able to do things that no quarterback has ever done physically in this league," former quarterback Steve Beuerlein said on the CBS show NFL Monday QB.
Do you understand what the evolution-revolution is now? Do you get why Newton might be the most dangerous quarterback weapon we've ever seen?
It's possible that Newton is the end of this scale. It's hard to imagine a bigger, faster quarterback. Will there be a quarterback to come along who's 6'7" and 260 and can do what Newton does? Maybe in 100 years, but still...probably not.
The evolution has been long and steady, but it took a large, seismic leap with Newton. Like it did with Cunningham and Young before him.
2. About that "fake smile"...
Newton was also perhaps the most divisive draft pick of all time.
This rip job of Newton by Nolan Nawrocki in Pro Football Weekly in 2011 remains one of the most stunning things I've ever seen written about a prospect. This was the key part (via Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio):
Very disingenuous—has a fake smile, comes off as very scripted and has a selfish, me-first makeup. Always knows where the cameras are and plays to them. Has an enormous ego with a sense of entitlement that continually invites trouble and makes him believe he is above the law—does not command respect from teammates and will always struggle to win a locker room. ... Lacks accountability, focus and trustworthiness—is not punctual, seeks shortcuts and sets a bad example. Immature and has had issues with authority. Not dependable.
Nawrocki wasn't the only one ripping Newton, and yeah, we all get things wrong. I thought Christian Ponder would be a star.
Yet looking back at the harshness of those critiques (and many, many others) is instructive and helps us understand the ridiculous criticism Newton still receives.
Some of the criticism (some) was, and is, race-based, but also a significant part of it is personality-based. (There's also an intertwining of the two.) Newton is new-school, a representative of the changing dynamics and culture of the NFL. There are a significant number of people who still expect their quarterbacks to look and act a certain way. Newton doesn't check those boxes.
Some refuse to accept those changes and thus refuse to accept just how good Newton was going to be—and now is.
They hate the way Newton acts, so they refuse to accept how good he is.
The interesting part is that Newton does act with class and grace.
Yes, he dabs:
But dabbing is just celebrating, not so different from the Lambeau Leap. Off the field, he doesn't get in a lick of trouble. He works as hard as anyone in the sport.
Newton has proved there's nothing disingenuous about him. Not his smile, and certainly not his game.
3. This was actually once a debate
Rocco Vitale @roccovitale3
@mikefreemanNFL https://t.co/ni7av9OTua1/25/2016, 2:35:21 AM
Just let this magazine cover sink in for one second. This was actually a big argument. Who would be better: Newton, Blaine Gabbert or Jake Locker?
4. Wade Phillips' defense
How did Broncos defensive coordinator Wade Phillips do it? How did he frustrate Tom Brady?
What makes the fact that Denver was able to get so much pressure on Brady even more impressive is this:
Pro Football Focus @PFF
The Broncos blitzed a season-low 17.2 percent of the time yesterday1/25/2016, 1:29:39 PM
Phillips was able to do something I've rarely seen before, and that's confuse Brady with coverages.
Because of those schemes and the way the pass-rushers were phasering the offensive line, the Broncos didn't need to blitz.
What Phillips did will go down as one of the best pure coaching jobs in recent league history.
What Changed for Tony Romo on Day 1 of NFL Free Agency?
What Will It Take for Tony Romo to Land in Denver?
Tony Romo Says Goodbye to Cowboys
Deal Alert: Grading Alshon Jeffery to Philadelphia Eagles Free Agent Signing
Matt Miller's Winners and Losers from the NFL Combine
Deal Alert: Grading DeSean Jackson to Tampa Bay Buccaneers Free Agent Signing
Insider Buzz: Deep CB Draft Class Helped Patriots Outbid Teams for Gilmore
Insider Buzz: AP May Return to Vikings as Other Teams Show Little Interest in FA
Insider Buzz: Desean Jackson Will Get Big Payday; Could Set Brandin Cooks Market
Deal Alert: Grading Brandon Marshall to New York Giants Free Agent Signing
Insider Buzz: Hue Jackson 'Loves' Mitch Trubisky; Chance to Be #1 Overall Pick
Top Performers from the 2017 NFL Combine
Rumor Alert: San Francisco 49ers Targeting Free Agent WR Kenny Britt?
Insider Buzz: Dolphins May Pay Big Money for Stills; Parker's Future in Question
Rumor Alert: Bears Will Make 'Major Push' for Free Agent QB Mike Glennon?
NFL Free Agency 2017: Where Will Former Redskins WR DeSean Jackson Land?
NFL Free Agency 2017: Why Teams Should Be Targeting WR Terrelle Pryor
Myles Garrett, Top Edge Rushers Absolutely Owned the 2017 NFL Combine
NFL Free Agency 2017: Why Teams Should Be Targeting RB LeGarrette Blount
Insider Buzz: 49ers Targeting Mike Glennon If Cousins Deal Doesn't Develop
Insider Buzz: Romo to Denver 'Gaining Momentum', Lack of Other Options
NFL Free Agency 2017: Where Will Former Chicago Bears WR Alshon Jeffery Land?
The Explosive, West Coast Kid: Meet the Ultimate Deep Threat John Ross
NFL Free Agency 2017: Where Will Former Vikings RB Adrian Peterson Land?
Insider Buzz: Glennon Offered Top Backup QB Money by Bucs, CHI & NYJ Interested
Insider Buzz: Raiders Will Wait to See Murray's Market Before Targeting Peterson
Insider Buzz: JPP Not Expected to Agree to Long-Term Deal, NYG Could Draft DE
Rumor Alert: Titans Most Likely to Trade for Saints WR Brandin Cooks?
Rumor Alert: Philadelphia Eagles Will Evaluate Signing RB Jamaal Charles?
NFL Free Agency 2017: Where Will Tony Romo Land If Cut by Dallas Cowboys?
Matt Miller's Rapid-Fire Predictions for 2017 NFL Combine
Insider Buzz: Kirk Cousins Open to Being Traded to Cleveland Browns
Insider Buzz: Adrian Peterson, Vikings to Determine Future at NFL Combine
Meet the Biggest Sleeper DB Ready to Tear Up the NFL Combine
Insider Buzz: Cutler Won't Accept Any Trade by Bears, Could Threaten to Retire
Insider Buzz: NFL Won't Rush to Interfere in Revis, Jets Contract Situation
Top Landing Spots for Tony Romo If Released or Traded by Dallas Cowboys
Top Landing Spots for Former New York Giants WR Victor Cruz
Insider Buzz: Redskins Interested in Tony Romo; Could Trade Kirk Cousins
Insider Buzz: Jets Can Get Out of Revis Contract Due to Incident in Pittsburgh
Insider Buzz: Jets Can Get Out of Revis Contract Due to Incident in Pittsburgh
Insider Buzz: QB Mitch Trubisky Is a 'Lock for the Top 5' in 2017 NFL Draft
Insider Buzz: Salary Cap Increase Could Lead to Uptick in Franchise Tag Use
Tim Tebow Gave 75,000 Kids with Special Needs a Night They'll Never Forget
Insider Buzz: Aldon Smith Reinstatement in Jeopardy with Latest Controversy
Insider Buzz: Tony Romo Could Retire from NFL to Pursue TV Career
Insider Buzz: 49ers Open to Keeping Kaepernick but Not at Current Salary
History Will Never Forget New England Patriots 5th Championship in Super Bowl LI
Simms: Blame Falcons' Conservative D, Not Aggressive Offense, for SB LI Collapse
A7FL No-Pads, Full-Contact Football League Claims It's Safer Than the NFL
Gridiron Heights: Patriots Win Super Bowl LI
Gridiron Heights Episode 20: Roger Goodell Hosts the Griddies
NFL Comeback Player of the Year Jordy Nelson
Insider Buzz: NFL Being Urged to Decrease TNF Games; Goodell Not Budging
Top 5 NFL Interception Leaders of 2016
Insider Buzz: Rams Could Let Trumaine Johnson Walk in Free Agency
Insider Buzz: Las Vegas Deal Dead, but Raiders Haven't Contacted City of Oakland
Insider Buzz: Belichick Could Pull Out Old Trick to Slow Down Julio Jones in SB
NFL Award Predictions: Who Will Take Home Hardware at 'Honors' Ceremony?
Tale of the Tape: Do Patriots or Falcons Have Advantage in Super Bowl LI?
Why Dion Lewis Will Be Patriots Good Luck Charm in Super Bowl LI
Deflategate to Lady Gaga: Prop Bets That Will Keep You Hooked on Super Bowl LI
Which Group of Road Graders Will Win Offensive Line of the Year at NFL Honors?
Insider Buzz: Patriots Will Move Fast on Garoppolo Trade This Offseason
Insider Buzz: Romo Wants to Face Cowboys in 2017 Season
Can Super Bowl LI Patriots Cement Legacy as Top Team of New England Dynasty Era?
Fake Brady Makes Appearance at Super Bowl 51 Media Day
Atlanta Falcons X-Factors to Disrupt Patriots Offense in Super Bowl LI
Insider Buzz: John Elway, Rich McKay Endorsed John Lynch for 49ers GM Job
Insider Buzz: Raiders to Vegas Hits a Snag, Lease Proposal Seen as 'Insulting'
Why One of College Football's Worst Teams Will Be a Winner in Super Bowl LI
Insider Buzz: 'Unconventional' John Lynch Hire Won't Impact Shanahan to 49ers
Simms in 60: Falcons and Patriots Have Most Creative Offenses, Take Notice NFL
NCAA Lacrosse to Super Bowl LI: Patriots WR Chris Hogan's Rise to the Top
Insider Buzz: Teams Take 'Precautions' Before Facing Patriots, Shred Game Plans
Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa Is Much More Than "The Next Marcus Mariota"
Who Had the Best Attendance in the NFL in 2016?
Insider Buzz: Spanos Denies Wanting to Move Chargers Back to SD, Won't Sell Team
Insider Buzz: Former Bills Coaches Angry at 'Lazy' Dareus' Criticism of Rex Ryan
Insider Buzz: Outgoing Rams Coaching Staff Blames Todd Gurley's Struggles on Him
From College Lacrosse to Super Bowl 51: Chris Hogan's Journey
Insider Buzz: 3 Teams Eyeing Free Agent DeSean Jackson If Let Go by Washington
Insider Buzz: Stanford's Solomon Thomas Looking Like Top-10 Talent
Simms' Hidden Truth: Falcons Use of Julio Jones Too Dynamic for NE to Shut Down
Insider Buzz: Chiefs' Chris Ballard Emerging as Favorite for Colts' GM Job
Jackson vs. Garcon: Redskins Are Facing Difficult 2017 Free Agent Decision
Simms' Hidden Truth: X-Factors for Patriots to Slow Down Explosive Falcons in SB
Insider Buzz: Raiders Hope Carr Contract Won't Reset QB Market, No Rush on Deal
Insider Buzz: Collins Deal Will Be Baseline for Patriots to Ink Dont'a Hightower
Week 19 Episode of Gridiron Heights
How Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and the Patriots Rewrote the History Books
Insider Buzz: CLE & SF Both Landing Spots for Kirk Cousins in Offseason
Chris Hogan Lived Up to His "7/11" Nickname in Patriots AFC Title Victory
Simms in 60: Brady's Brilliance Has Made NE Unstoppable Force Heading into SB51
AFC CHAMPIONSHIP PREVIEW: TOM BRADY POISED TO MAKE HISTORY WITH PATRIOTS WIN
The Key Player in the AFC Championship Game
Tom Brady Poised to Make History with Victory Over Pittsburgh Steelers
Insider Buzz: Raiders Face Hurdles in Vegas Move; Owners Want Them in Oakland
Insider Buzz: Shanahan May Cede Control of Roster to GM; 2 Lead Candidates Emerge
New England Patriots Have NFL's Ultimate Postseason Home-Field Advantage
5. Not doubting the Broncos, but...
I made the mistake of thinking the Patriots would obliterate the Broncos. I chose...poorly.
I'm not going to make that mistake again and underestimate Denver, especially after that defensive performance. If there's one defense that has both the speed and power to match Carolina, it's Denver's.
This just seems like Carolina's year. What makes this Panthers team so formidable—foremost—is its physicality on both sides of the football. They will be able to match the physicality of Denver's defense with their offense, and their defense can get pressure up the middle on Peyton Manning.
Carolina has rushed for at least 100 yards in 31 consecutive games. Can the Broncos, built to rush the passer, play physical in the interior and bang around with that Carolina offensive line?
That's the biggest question of the Super Bowl.
6. Incredible quarterback stat
This comes from Indianapolis radio personality Jake Query:
Jake Query @jakequery
The Denver Broncos have gone to 7 Super Bowls with QBs drafted by the Colts. The Colts have done so twice.1/25/2016, 12:59:46 PM
7. Holding and Rob Gronkowski
It is getting fairly ridiculous. There were many, many plays in the AFC Championship Game where the Broncos held Rob Gronkowski, and no penalty was called. This is not excuse-making. This is a fact. It's a fact that it happened all season to Gronkowski.
Gronk's abilities are so spectacular that teams are being forced to cheat when they cover him. They hold and hold and hold some more. Yes, on occasion, Gronkowski will push off, but not nearly as often as he's held by defenders.
The officials are letting it happen for some reason. That's got to change.
8. Cracked helmet
Last week, I wrote about the cracked helmet of Panthers linebacker Roman Harper. One person who saw that note was former Patriots linebacker Ted Johnson.
Johnson has always been someone I've admired because of his willingness to discuss the gritty side of the sport. He's now a radio host in Houston.
Johnson sent me these pictures:
Those are, well, pretty incredible. Johnson says it happened as a result of a collision with guard Jamie Nails in 2003. Nails weighed over 350 pounds, and Johnson weighed, I believe, around 250 at the time.
The force it must have taken to do that a helmet. I mean, speechless.
9. What exactly do we make of Peyton Manning?
This was from former Seahawk Michael Robinson, now an analyst on the NFL Network, prior to the Broncos' win over New England: "I think Peyton is done. I think we saw the last greatness of Peyton when [the Seahawks] beat him in the Super Bowl."
I believed this as well. It's why I wrongly picked the Patriots to beat them in the title game. Manning, however, keeps proving us wrong.
What Manning has done is something I thought he never wanted to do, and that's become a game manager. I always believed Manning's ego was too large to play second fiddle to a running game or defense. But I was wrong about that, too.
What I see with Manning is someone who has accepted his limitations and is more than happy to allow others to take the spotlight, namely the defense and running game.
This is Manning's greatest asset now. His ability to allow others to lead while he utilizes his mental skills and knowledge to supplement the team in whatever ways he's able.
So, no, Manning's not done. Not yet, anyway.
10. The Pokemon Super Bowl
If there is one thing that I'm certain of with this Super Bowl, it's that Newton and the Panthers won't be overwhelmed by the moment, unlike other teams I've witnessed get totally and completely steamrolled by the pressure of the game.
I state this because you will read a great deal about the age difference between Newton and Manning. It is, well, staggering:
ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo
The age difference between Manning & Newton is the largest between starting QBs in Super Bowl history @EliasSports https://t.co/EdY0kB4MHA1/25/2016, 3:04:45 AM
How old was Newton when Manning made his NFL debut? Newton was nine. Nine. Newton was watching Blue's Clues or Pokemon while Manning was studying for the zone blitz. I'm assuming there was no Dora back then. She wasn't exploring yet. Maybe Johnny Bravo or Tiny Toon Adventures. Justice League? The Wild Thornberrys?
Anyhoo, when Manning won his first Super Bowl, do you know where Newton was? He was a senior in high school.
Newton was at his damn prom when Manning won his first title.
So the age difference will be much discussed but, again, it won't matter. Newton is confident and there's almost nothing that can derail it.
Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!