"Mr. 400 Yards" sounds like a fitting nickname.
One 400-yard passing game could be a fluke. Two 400-yard passing games, especially when the second comes against the defending Super Bowl champions, could be a sign of fantasy football superstardom.
Fantasy football owners are more fickle than five-year-old kids when it comes to emerging superstars. One minute we love you and will trade away our top running back or wide receiver to get you. Next minute we scoff at any owner who has you on their roster.
But anyone who owns Carolina’s Cam Newton right now is not being scoffed at and is being barraged with emails, instant messages and texts about what it will take to acquire him.
After throwing for 422 yards and two touchdowns in his first NFL game against the Arizona Cardinals, all Newton did for an encore was toss for 432 yards and one score versus the Green Bay Packers. Maybe he will not be a bust like Ryan Leaf, Akili Smith and Cade McNown after all.
While both 400-yard outbursts were surprising in their own ways, Newton’s latest work of art was downright shocking considering Green Bay’s defense is light years ahead of Arizona’s when it comes to stopping the pass. Let’s compare the two defenses...
Arizona: The Cardinals were ranked 23rd in pass defense in 2010 and then decided it would be a good idea to trade their best cover corner, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, to Philadelphia for Kevin Kolb. So is it any wonder why Steve Smith discovered busted coverages against their secondary like he was Magellan?
Green Bay: The Bowl-winning Packers finished fifth in pass defense last year and have arguably the best trio of cornerbacks in the league (Charles Woodson, Tramon Williams and Sam Shields) and the runner-up for Defensive Player of the Yea, Caly Matthews, rushing opposing passers.
Yet the only real difference between Newton’s games against both teams was that he threw three interceptions against Green Bay and only one against Arizona. The passing yardage and completion percentages in the two contests were about the same, and he ran for 35 more yards against the much more athletic and stout Packers defense. So upping the defensive talent ante against him did not bother his fantasy worth that much.
Three things you have to love about Newton fantasy-wise
Carolina turning into a pass-first team
The Panthers abandoning their pass-only-when-we-have-to philosophy and reducing their two-headed rushing tandem of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart to spectators and safety valves has to be ranked as one of the most unpredictable occurrences of the early season. You seriously think Williams would have re-upped for five more years with Carolina if he knew he would be getting a lot less carries than inferior backs like Felix Jones?
Give credit to new head coach Ron Rivera for scrapping the ultra-conservative offense former coach John Fox employed and allowing Newton to show off his arm and legs on a regular basis. Many rookie quarterbacks do not start, and when they do they are shackled by panicky coaches afraid of mistakes and turnovers.
I thought Newton would have been limited to 20-25 pass attempts per game and that Carolina would rely on the Williams-Stewart duo to keep the third-down distances short and lower the chances for failure for the first pick overall. I am happy to say I thought wrong.
Newton’s rushing yards
Imagine how much more dangerous Michael Vick would be if he was built like a linebacker. Newton is a faster Tim Tebow when he scrambles. Around the goal line he is almost unstoppable thanks to his size-speed combo, and he can turn busted pass plays into positive yards whenever the pass rush closes in.
Having a quarterback who runs for a ton is as valuable in fantasy football as having a running back who catches plenty of passes. With 71 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns in his first two games, Newton appears poised to be one of the top-5 running quarterbacks in the NFL at season’s end, if not No. 2 behind Vick.
Newton’s short-term schedule
The Auburn product is not facing any Ryan-coached defenses anytime soon. Carolina’s next four games are against Jacksonville, Chicago, New Orleans and Atlanta. None of the four units have been locking down receivers and shutting down opposing passers in the early going.
The blitz-happy Saints would have caused problems if their first matchup against Cam was at New Orleans, but this game will be played on Carolina’s natural grass, and the Saints are nowhere near as effective when they are not on the fast Superdome track
So look for Newton to keep putting up decent fantasy numbers over the next month. If he can throw for 400 yards against a staunch outfit like Green Bay there is no reason he cannot have above-average efforts against this far-from-fearful foursome.
Two things you have to worry about with Newton, fantasy-wise
Rookies throw a lot of interceptions. Deal with it. Exotic coverages drawn up by devious defensive coordinators confuse kid quarterbacks more than Nicolas Cage’s movie role choices.
Newton has been picked off four times in his two games. While that is not as brutal as Luke McCown’s quadruple-INT disaster against the New York Jets this past weekend, interceptions are fantasy killers in most leagues since they are normally count for negative points, so some of Newton’s yards or TD tosses have been negated by his picks.
But before you get ready to read Newton the riot act, remember that Peyton Manning threw 28 interceptions during his rookie campaign. Also remember that Newton’s mentor is Warren Moon, a man who had no qualms about throwing interceptions on his way to a Hall of Fame career and countless fantasy football MVP awards.
Newton might rack up 20-25 interceptions this season, so his fantasy value will be stunted because of it. But in keeper leagues if you hold onto him expect his INT numbers to drop down in the coming years as he gains experience.
The NFL catching up to him
Newton is like the minor league slugger in baseball who gets called up to the majors and goes nuts for several weeks because the league does not know how to pitch him yet. But then once teams get some tape on him and figure out his flaws he slumps badly and comes crashing back to earth.
The same could happen to Newton. Sure, right now he is throwing darts and is piling up 400-yard games like Dan Fouts. But once a team writes the book on him and the rest of the league copycats how to slow Newton down, his fantasy value could take a tumble.
In non-keeper leagues you may almost be wise to trade Newton now while his stock is at its highest point. You probably have another high-profile quarterback on your roster (unless you gambled and took Newton as your first QB), so you could deal Newton for a big-time RB or WR and not worry about screwing yourself out of him for the next five years.
Newton is currently one of the top five fantasy quarterbacks. He ranks second in the NFL in passing yards behind only Tom Brady and is helping his owners in the rushing yards and touchdown departments as well.
He cannot be ranked as high as Vick, Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Philip Rivers yet, but he has already surpassed the expectations of many pundits who thought he’d post Alex Smith-like numbers, and right now if someone offered you Eli Manning, Jay Cutler or Matt Schaub for Newton, you could make a legitimate argument either way on whether or not pulling the trigger would be wise.
That was not the case before the season started.