The Panthers' rookie quarterback Cam Newton is coming off arguably his best performance of his young career and it's hard to not see his future entailing greatness, but becoming a franchise quarterback in the NFL is more difficult than some give it credit for.
What makes Newton's early success such an anomaly is the type of player he is. He is the size of a defensive end, as fast and elusive as many NFL running backs, and already has one of the strongest arms of any quarterback in the league.
So why is it so difficult for some to shake that feeling that he won't become an elite quarterback?
Newton does throw his body around often, and even though he stands at 6'5'', 250 lbs, he's bound to get injured sooner or later if he continues to make leaping attempts into the end zone on third down and trying to run over NFL linebackers.
He's been spotted limping at times this season, and even did so today, but has yet to miss any action. He was actually in a boot earlier in the season, but I'll repeat that he has not missed as much as a play thus far for his team.
Once he learns to take better care of his body, this will become less and less of concern, as long as that time comes.
Let's move past durability concerns though. Let's discuss his ability to progress as a quarterback, because that's what truly matters in the big picture.
We have often seen rookie quarterbacks come into the NFL and play effectively early on, but some have flared out, so one must consider the possibility that Newton may follow that path. Sam Bradford has a spectacular rookie season, but has failed to show improvement in year two, leading to questions about his viability as a future star quarterback.
Jay Cutler played great for a young player early on in his career, but has never taken that step to elite status. Eli Manning made some strides in his second NFL season, but it took him a few more seasons to become a great quarterback.
It's evident that there is no perfect formula to project how an NFL quarterback's career will pan out, but the Panthers must do their best to give Newton his best chance for success, because keeping the future of your franchise content and determined to win you games is the first priority.
Carolina already has the run game to compliment Newton's passing ability.
Jonathan Stewart is a young back who will take over the starting duties once DeAngelo Williams' career winds to an end within the next five years or so. Behind Stewart stands Mike Goodson, who is also a talented runner. So there are no concerns there; the Panthers have a nice stable of backs on their roster.
On the offensive line, they are in need of some help for the future. Offensive tackle Jeff Otah is incredibly talented, but can't stay on the field. Geoff Schwartz looked like the heir apparent if he needed to replace either Otah or left tackle Jordan Gross, but he's out for the season as well.
Rookie Byron Bell has some talent, but has been overwhelmed at times this season. Falcons' defensive end Ray Edwards bull rushed Bell and was consistently successful last week and against Washington, he was out of position on multiple occasions, and simply outplayed at others.
There is some elite talent at offensive tackle in the draft, but Carolina will likely look at defense if they have a high pick.
At receiver, the Panthers will have some concerns once Steve Smith retires, albeit that may not be for another few seasons. David Gettis was fantastic in his rookie season, but his season ended when he tore his ACL in August. Brandon LaFell is another second year receiver who shows promise, but he will need someone opposite him to prevent the same double coverage's that slowed down Steve Smith in recent years.
If Carolina is smart, they will look to stockpile on receivers in the middle rounds of the draft, where they can get their best value.
If they strike gold on a player or two, just as they did with former third round pick Smith, then Newton can grow with a player and develop a connection that will last for his career.
We saw this with Manning and Harrison, Montana and Rice, and Troy Aikman and Michael Irvin. It's vital to have consistency at the receiver position. Newton's built some chemistry with tight end Greg Olsen and LaFell, but he will need more weapons to become an elite player in the future.
Newton is just what the doctor ordered for a Carolina fan base that was in the midst of the post-Delhomme Era depression. He has given them new life, but the next step will be taking the step to becoming an elite quarterback.
I know something for sure though, it will be fun to watch Newton along the way, even if he never develops into that elite player that the media and fans expect him to become.
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