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NFL: Will Cam Newton Trump Sam Bradford's Rookie Season?

Anthony RizzutiSenior Analyst IIIJuly 31, 2011

NFL: Will Cam Newton Trump Sam Bradford's Rookie Season?

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    Coming off an injury-shortened season at Oklahoma, Sam Bradford became the NFL's first overall pick in the 2010 draft. The rookie quarterback salvaged his first season in an NFL uniform, throwing for 3,512 yards and 18 touchdowns, and nearly leading the St. Louis Rams to their first postseason since the 2004 season. After his first year in St. Louis, the Rams knew they made the right choice in selecting Bradford.

    Now back to present day...

    Carolina made quarterback Cam Newton 2011's first overall pick after his majestic season at Auburn. The highly-controversial quarterback threw for 30 touchdowns, ran for 20, won the Heisman and led the Tigers to a national title.

    So will Carolina be as satisfied as St. Louis?

    Will Newton succeed as a NFL quarterback?

    And will Newton have a better rookie season than Bradford did in 2010?

    Here are some reasons why Cam Newton could have a better rookie year than the previous No. 1 selection, Sam Bradford.

Targets

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    The Carolina receiving corps looked downright sloppy going into the 2010 season. They had a disgruntled veteran in Steve Smith, a couple of rookies in Brandon LaFell and David Gettis, and a bunch of less-than-mediocre tight ends with King, Barnidge and Rosario. 

    To no one's surprise, that group achieved close to nothing during the campaign. The Panthers' passing game mustered up a laughable nine touchdowns and averaged a pathetic 143.1 yards per game.

    (It goes without saying they finished dead last in both of those categories.)  

    But the tides have turned, and the targets are much more appealing. As soon as the lockout ended and the free-agency period began, Carolina's front office went on a frenzy. In addition to their signing of Jeremy Shockey back in March, the Panthers signed Ben Hartsock to a two-year deal and traded for Chicago's Greg Olsen shortly after. The current tight end team of Shockey, Olsen and Hartsock is much better than anything the Panthers have ever had at that position.

    Carolina also boasts an improved group of wideouts entering the 2011 season. LaFell and Gettis now have a season under their belts, and the team's relationship with their most dangerous weapon, Steve Smith, has drastically improved over the course of the offseason. Newton's powerful arm should make Smitty a very happy man.

    So here are Newton's potential targets for his rookie season against Sam Bradford's top 2010 targets:

    • Cam: Steve Smith, Jeremy Shockey, Greg Olsen, Brandon LaFell, David Gettis
    • Sam: Danny Amendola, Brandon Gibson, Steven Jackson, Daniel Fells, Laurent Robinson

    Their group isn't that much better, but Carolina does carry a more rounded team of targets. 

Ground Game

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    Sometimes, a QB's running back can be his best friend; when the quarterback isn't feeling it on a given day, he can turn to his man in the backfield to pick him up. The back can take the pressure off the QB by catching some dump-off passes and carrying the offense on the ground. The running game can even distract the opposing defense and allow for a couple of big passing plays.

    In Cam Newton's case, he has two elite running backs in DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart who can do the job for him. The two-back team known to Panthers fans as "Double Trouble" easily has the ability to take over games with their explosive running styles. 

    Williams and Stewart combined for 2,351 rushing yards in 2008 and 2,250 yards in 2009. Unfortunately for Carolina, Williams suffered an injury-riddled season in 2010 and left their ground attack at half strength. But when healthy, the Carolina Panthers undoubtedly have the best halfback combo in football.

    With D-Will re-signed and J-Stew always ready, Cam Newton can find his new best friends just by looking in his backfield:

    • Cam: DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart
    • Sam: Steven Jackson, Kenneth Darby

    No need to argue who has the better backfield here; even though Jackson is a much better receiver than both Williams and Stewart, the Panthers' duo has a greater chance at taking the pressure off their quarterback.

Protection

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    After the 2010 campaign, using Carolina's offensive line as a positive point in an argument may seem absurd. The so-called protection allowed 50 sacks and were a considerable factor in their poor passing game.

    However, last year's O-line was plagued by devastating injuries. The Panthers lost Jeff Otah Nov. 9 to a knee injury and saw Jordan Gross also end his season to a broken ankle just two days later. This forced the coaching staff to sprinkle less talented and less experienced lineman onto the depth chart.

    As mentioned before, the line surrendered 50 sacks, which ranked third-worst in the NFL. But when the offensive line was intact in 2009, the group ranked 13th-best in sacks allowed with 33.

    If Cam can get the protection from his Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil, his immovable left tackle Jordan Gross and his promising right tackle Jeff Otah, the rookie QB will be able to make smarter decisions with more time in the pocket.

    (The Panthers also drafted tackle Lee Ziemba in the 2011 draft. Ziemba was a member of Newton's offensive line at Auburn.)

    • Cam: Ryan Kalil, Jordan Gross, Jeff Otah, Duke Robinson, Travelle Wharton
    • Sam: Jason Brown, Jason Smith, Rodger Saffold, Jacob Bell, Adam Goldberg

    Hard not to take Carolina's O-line over Bradford's in 2010. The Panthers' line has a total of four Pro Bowl selections to the Rams' zero.

Opposing Pass-Defenses

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    No need for any paragraphs here. Just peruse through the rankings of the 2010 pass-defenses.

     

    2011 Opponents and Passing YPG Ranking in 2010 (Newton):

    Combined Average: 226.4 YPG

     

    2011 Opponents and Passing YPG Ranking in 2010 (Bradford):

    Combined Average: 214.3 YPG

     

    Newton will be throwing against many of the worst pass-defenses in the NFL, while Bradford will be throwing against a good amount of the best pass-defenses.

Multi-Dimensional Style

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    When Bradford came out of Oklahoma, there was no doubt that he was ready. He had the skill, the statistics and the mindset to immediately become a NFL quarterback. 

    On the other hand, Cam Newton wasn't so highly-touted when he opted for the NFL draft after his collegiate career. He was just a one-year starter in a top program, he didn't play in a pro-style offense and many believe he wasn't mature enough from both a player and character standpoint. Cam also threw just 280 passes in his junior season.

    But Newton has something Bradford doesn't—and that's an explosive running game. 

    In his magical 2010 season at Auburn, the 6'6" quarterback racked up 1,473 yards and 20 touchdowns on the ground. Cam has great vision, quick feet and an intelligent mind when it comes to taking off on his legs:

    • Cam: 1,473 rushing yards in 2010 at Auburn
    • Sam: 99 rushing yards combined in three seasons at Oklahoma and one with the Rams

    Bradford may be what more teams deem as "the NFL quarterback," but Newton's ground attack, along with his aerial potential, may make him more lethal than Bradford. 

Winning, Duh

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    For those of you who didn't get the slide title, it's a Charlie Sheen quote.

    But anyway, Cam Newton and winning go hand-in-hand; the guy simply wins wherever he goes.

    Newton led Blinn College to the 2009 NJCAA Football Championship. He of course headed the 2010-2011 National Champion Auburn Tigers. And hell, he even played for the 2008 National Champion Florida Gators. (He didn't start obviously, that was Tim Tebow.)

    Despite some character issues, Newton is a born leader. He has the intangibles, the leadership ability and the hardware to prove it:

    • Cam: Led Auburn University and Blinn College to National Championships
    • Sam: No collegiate National Championships

    Collegiate titles are not the only thing teams look for, but who said winning doesn't matter? Isn't the point of drafting a potential franchise quarterback to get a ring? Unlike Bradford, Newton has won multiple titles and has constantly exhibited his leadership skills, even amongst his current Panthers teammates.

Wrap-Up

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    It's tough to predict that Cam Newton will have a better rookie year than Sam Bradford did. Bradford put up more than respectable stats and made a one-win team a seven-win team. He had a great season from a statistical standpoint, as well as a team standpoint.

    But being that Newton's potential can go straight through the roof, he has the ability and tools to break out a phenomenal rookie season of his own. 

    I'm not saying Newton's first year will be better than Bradford's, but there is a decent chance it could happen.

    What do you think?

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