Carolina Panthers: Grading Cam Newton's Preseason Performance
Carolina Panthers' rookie quarterback Cam Newton recently rounded out one of the most scrutinized preseasons in recent memory. The amount of attention being focused on Newton is extremely high and nearly every face in the media has an opinion of whether Newton will fail or strive in the NFL.
But truthfully, it's a stretch to say any of us really know how Newton's career will turn out and all we have to evaluate him on is the four games that he played in the past month.
So let's take a look at how well Newton did as we count down the days until he makes his regular season debut.
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Many rookie quarterbacks lost some zip on their passes this preseason, and early on it was evident that Newton would not fall into this category. In his debut against the New York Giants, Newton threw a bullet to tight end Greg Olsen on a deep route that pushed the offense into red-zone. And despite what was an overall disappointing performance versus the Cincinnati Bengals, Newton made some fantastic passes on bootlegs—which you should expect to see a lot of this season.
However, the whole preseason culminated with one drive in Newton's final warm-up game. The Panthers were playing the vaunted Pittsburgh Steelers starting defense and when Newton took the field, he did not play afraid. His arm strength was consistent during the entire drive and a 25 yard throw that he made while falling down was particularly impressive—although it did fall incomplete due to what would likely be defensive pass interference in a regular season game.
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Newton was a little less reliable with his accuracy than Panthers fans hoped, but he came around by Week 4. His 42.1 completion percentage remains a sticking point for his detractors, but that number doesn't tell the whole story.
Newton's performance versus Cincinnati was largely responsible for pulling down his completion percentage and his positive bounce back performance against the Giants at least ends the pre-season on a good note. Newton was very accurate and his only errant throw was caused by a miscommunication with receiver Steve Smith.
However, his tendency early on was to sail a few and bounce a few passes in front of his receivers every game, so while he came around, his grade will reflect his poor accuracy in the first three games.
Newton was slowly handed the keys to Rob Chudzinski's offense so he was weary to run too much initially, but it's clear that his running ability will be a huge factor in Carolina's offense this season.
He was second among rookie quarterbacks in rushing yards and likely would have been first had he been allowed to take off more frequently in Week 1 and 2, where there were clear running lanes presented to him.
Newton's huge frame makes him an outlier among running quarterbacks in the NFL. He is sturdier and less injury prone, so expect him to lower his shoulder every so often, unlike most quarterback who are most concerned with protecting their precious bodies.
His rushing performance over the final two games offers some insight as to what you might see this season. I expect to see around 30 to 40 yards per game to be contributed by Newton to the running game. When you interject that production into an already dangerous backfield, you may just see an elite running game develop in Carolina.
Note: I simply couldn't give Newton an A with only nine rushing attempts to base a grade off of.
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Newton moved around very well in the pocket this preseason, which was pleasantly surprising. Often, gaining a sense for the pocket's form on the professional level often takes time, especially when a quarterback comes from a spread offense in college.
Newton did a solid job of stepping up to give the tackle time to catch up to a speed rusher off the edge and he seemed to have eyes in the back off his head at times, getting the ball of just before a defended went to swat at his arm or taking off just as the pocket broke down.
He did seem a little jumpy in his first start and often had time to wait for a receiver to break open or he held on to the ball too long. But overall, he exceeded what I expected to see in terms of ability to quickly adapt to the NFL pass rush, so this is not a point of concern.
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Newton's dancing footwork was far more impressive than his footwork come game time. He was throwing off of his back foot with regularity and could have benefited from setting his feet and keeping his mechanics sound.
He was much more accurate when he set his feet properly and you could especially see the difference in his Week 3 performance. In totality, he had high roughest game due to lazy footwork, but even in the midst of it, you could see his potential for when the proper mechanics become second nature to him. On one pass, a deep smash route to Greg Olsen, Newton set his feet well and delivered a perfectly placed ball that Olsen was able to pull in for a huge gain.
With experience will come consistency for Newton and he has the work ethic to become great. He showed up in Week 4 a significantly better player and if we see more of that, he will surprise a lot of people. If he falls back into his habits earlier in the pre-season, he will cause some stir from the fans.
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Newton had a roller coaster of a preseason, but he's ultimately ended up with the starting gig and will get a chance to break barriers for spread quarterbacks coming out of college. His natural ability is bound to take over and it's only a matter of time before Newton makes a name for himself as a bona fide superstar or yet another bust.
Panther's fans are obviously hoping for the former and there is some evidence that suggests he is following on a path towards stardom, but when it comes to NFL quarterbacks, there is a lot that can go wrong and throw a career terribly off path. If Newton remains committed and bounces back like he did in Week 4, the Panthers have a bright future ahead.
Final Grade: B-