No rookie will have more eyes on him this year than the Carolina Panthers' number one overall pick, 2010 Heisman trophy winner Cam Newton.
We all know he's going to take his lumps. That's just a rite of passage for rookie quarterbacks who start right away. Newton should be encouraged, though, for a few different reasons.
1. The organization has shown it's willing to spend money and spend it wisely (even as unwise as drafting Jimmy Clausen looks now). They have been inking key defensive players, like Jon Beason, who was signed to the largest contract ever for an inside linebacker, and defensive end Charles Johnson, who is guaranteed $32 million in a six-year deal.
One way to help out a young quarterback is by building a solid defense. I'd say this is a start.
When Steve Smith is happy, the offense seems to be functioning well. Smith is going to have to return to Pro Bowl form if the Panthers want to improve upon their 2010 league-worst 143.1 passing yards per game.
3. The re-signing of power runner DeAngelo Williams should pay serious dividends for a team that is stockpiled with running backs who are all capable of carrying the load (including Mike Goodson and Jonathan Stewart).
Williams, who will get the majority of the carries, is one of the most underrated running backs in the NFL. With a new contract and a new, exciting teammate in Cam Newton, I expect Williams to come out with fresh legs after the longest labor stoppage in NFL history, and have one of his best rushing seasons to date.
If the running game can remain effective, or at least serviceable enough to provide some relief for the rookie quarterback, Newton will have time to make his reads and get the ball out on time. There is no room for indecision.
4. The move that I believe will help Newton most, but has been publicized the least, is Carolina's acquisition of tight end Greg Olsen from the Chicago Bears. You'll probably laugh at that statement, but you can never underestimate how advantageous it can be to have a tight end streaking up the seam.
Also, while Newton is still learning to read NFL defenses, he's going to need a safety valve when he's under pressure. Olsen is a very good pass-catching tight end, and will provide a reliable target for Newton to find. Though he's never caught more than 60 balls in a season, I think if he stays healthy, he will eclipse that mark this year.
Don't be surprised if Newton starts to pepper it to Olsen early on in the season. I think there will be a lot of production there.
Plus, Olsen, who attended college at the University of Miami, will no longer be restricted by the unpredictable weather of windy Chicago. He's back in his element in the South, and I expect him to stretch his legs out downfield.
Just to give some perspective, 2010 AP Offensive Rookie of the Year Sam Bradford, quarterback of the St. Louis Rams, completed a shade under twenty percent (19.7) of his 354 completions last year to tight ends. He also found them in the end zone for seven of his 18 touchdowns.
If Newton can use Olsen effectively, especially in the red zone, Newton could have similar, if not more, success than Bradford had in his freshman year in the NFL.