When Cam Newton was drafted with the first overall pick by Carolina, expectations began to run rampant. When a franchise drafts a quarterback with the first pick, it isn't paying that player to hold a clipboard—they are paying them to become the face of the franchise.
Cam Newton certainly has the personality to become the face of the Panthers; that we know. But if he wants to avoid the same fate of the many other highly drafted quarterbacks, he will have to meet some high expectations in his first few seasons.
What is a successful season? There is no easy answer, and every player has a different set of goals they should reach in order for that season to be deemed a "success."
Here is what I need to see out of Newton in year one to determine his rookie season has met the standards that have been set and that he will be on his way towards a great career.
I wouldn't be all that surprised if Newton started off slow. The Panthers have the league's toughest schedule so it will take time to get acclimated. However, eventually I'd like to see a breakthrough in Newton where he doesn't look back.
There aren't a lot of weak points in Carolina's schedule, so it may take him until the bye week—Week 9—to take a deep breath and start winning games. Having that period of development come in a rookie season is very important. The pressure from the organization and fans will continue to build on Cam, and if he doesn't show certain signs of improvement by the year's end, his ability will be doubted.
I expect Newton—a very unique player—to make it in the NFL as a respected quarterback, but he and this organization expect him to become a superstar. Taking a huge leap in performance by the end of the season will do worlds towards achieving that goal.
Newton has already shown some positive signs of learning the mental part of the game. In Week 1, it was clear that he still had grasp the speed of the NFL game and the pace with which he had to make his reads.
Many scouts were discouraged by Newton as a prospect, because at Auburn, he ran a very simplistic offense that utilized his skills well and didn't require him to make many reads. In Rob Chudzinski's offense, Newton will often be asked to make multiple reads within a matter of a second or two. In Miami, he showed the ability to do that, and on many occasions, he did a great job of moving from read to read and getting the ball out in three to four seconds.
Newton has an advantage when it comes to holding the ball an extra split-second because he has such a quick release. With the flick of the wrist, Newton launched the ball about 50 yards in the first half of Carolina's exhibition match with the Dolphins. This will give him some leeway as he begins to make his reads more quickly.
I don't expect Newton to become Peyton Manning by season's end, but he should be calling out hot routes and blitzes pre-snap with regularity and haste.
While Newton developing into a star seems to be a prerequisite towards competing for a championship, the Panthers need to start winning games now. Newton must prove he will be a winner at the professional level as well, and it all starts with his rookie season.
Some might point out that by this standard, Peyton Manning's rookie season would be considered unsuccessful, but this is a much different scenario. Newton is a less polished prospect, and he also has a more complete team around him.
Competing for a playoff spot would obviously be considered exceeding expectations, but this is not the NFC West, so don't expect the Panthers to be sweeping the division and the season finale to decide a prospective playoff spot.
Don't count on Newton becoming the franchise's savior in his first year, Panthers fans. Just look for the glimpses of the future and you will be content when the season is over.
I cannot stress the importance of this enough. While Newton has been healthy as a horse thus far in his football career, anything can happen. He must continue to protect his body and not take too many chances when he's scrambling, because every defender will be looking to take his head off.
If you look at the great quarterbacks of the past few decades, all have enjoyed success because they have remained on the field. Peyton Manning, Brett Favre and Tom Brady—save one season—have avoided career-altering injuries because they know how to move in the pocket and when to protect their bodies.
If there is any rookie to worry about though, Newton would be one of the last that concerned me. He is very sturdy and he has the prototypical body size that you want your franchise quarterback to have. However, it will not stop owner Jerry Richardson from holding his breath every time Cam dives for a first down.
Don't count on Newton to go out and throw for 25 touchdowns, but I forecast that he'll be very careful with the football. He has made very limited mistakes in the preseason, which is encouraging. I believe he'll end up somewhere in the high teens or low 20s in terms of total touchdowns. That means I'd like to see him turn the ball over anywhere around 15 times or less.
A rookie's touchdown/turnover ratio has historically been a solid indicator of a player's future success, so if Newton does end up on the positive side, it's safe to feel confident about his future prospects with the team. To give you an example on this, Matt Leinart and Vince Young had negative ratios as rookies, while Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco and Ben Roethlisberger had positive ratios. There are anomalies though, so don't live and die by this rule.
Josh Freeman had a terrible ratio in his rookie season, but with leadership skills and a rocket arm, he turned it around in year two. Newton is a slightly similar prospect to Freeman so this may be a similarity to keep an eye on.