66.1 percent completion percentage. 2,854 YDs. 30 TDs. 182 QB rating.
67.8 percent completion percentage. 3,129 YDs. 28 TDs. 167 QB rating.
If you're blind to name (and painkiller addiction) you would think that either of the above players would be a viable starter on your fantasy squad coming off their last years in college. Once you realize that the first line represents Cam Newton's 2010 year at Auburn and the second line represents JaMarcus Russell's 2006 year at LSU, you become a little more weary.
If the owners and players ever get around to making football happen this year there will be a lot of fantasy folks out there tempted to roll the dice and build their team around Newton. Why shouldn't they? The man is clearly a physical specimen who destroyed college football in his last year at Auburn. Russell is the prime example though of how quickly the big fish in a little pond becomes a little fish in an even bigger pond. Newton has an uphill battle in being fantasy relevant in 2011.
First, Newton has to unseat presumed incumbent Jimmy Clausen. Clausen had a rough year to say the least, somehow managing to complete 52.5 percent of his passes for 1,558 yards and three TDs in 2010. Hardly anything to write home about. For all his petulance and erratic play, however, he's got an edge on Newton in that at least he's played a year in the NFL. Newton has only watched.
Sure, Clausen will have a very short leash, but who's he going to throw to? Steve Smith is apparently all moved out of Charlotte and the other receivers on the team are a essentially no-names and castoffs. The Panthers live and die on the legs of of the dynamic backfield of Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams. With no receivers (assuming Smith is out) why risk injuring Newton when you can just throw Clausen out there?
Second, Ron Rivera is a defensive-minded coach. Let's say Clausen starts the season on the road against Arizona and performs miserably. Arizona's shiny new toy in Patrick Peterson makes Clausen's life miserable, prompting Newton to go in the fourth quarter. Newton will show some flash and the Panthers will lose.
The following week, at home against Green Bay, Rivera possibly starts Newton. Again, some flash but nothing much. And that's my point. Rivera won't throw Newton to the wolves when there's no receivers to throw to and the advantage of a tremendous backfield. It'll be the classic, first-year coach inconsistency where Rivera is still getting a feel for the job.
Third, and this may the biggest stumbling block, is the lockout. Newton can't get in to learn the plays. He knew maybe four plays at Auburn and three of them had him making a break for it. Players have forever said that one of the biggest transitions they have to deal with when going to the NFL is digesting the tomes that coaches call playbooks. Newton is already behind the curve considering the lockout and not being able to get in start working on learning the plays.
In no way am I saying that Newton will be the next Russell. He might be, but I doubt it since he doesn't have to deal with Skeletor on a daily basis. Nor do I think Newton won't be able to comprehend the sophisticated plays of the NFL. Panthers fans and fantasy football managers may want to pump the brakes a bit, though, on counting on Newton to lead them to glory on the fantasy football squad.
Can Newton win the Rookie of the Year award? Completely possible. Managers in keeper leagues will definitely be smart to snag Newton sooner than later, as he will most likely be a beast in the coming years. Unfortunately, in his rookie year I just don't see it. He's got to beat Clausen (not that hard actually), win over a defensive-minded coach who can lean on a phenomenal run game and learn a complex playbook in a shortened time frame.
If you're determined to build your fantasy squad around a QB like Newton but want someone with a bit more pedigree, look at Vick. The Eagles will be more dangerous next year with LeSean and DeSean another year wiser. For 2011 though, don't expect Newton to add too much bite to the toothless Panthers.