NFL Fact or Fiction: Cam Newton Is Overrated

Doug OlsenCorrespondent INovember 24, 2011

NFL Fact or Fiction: Cam Newton Is Overrated

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    Cam Newton proven to be a dynamic player early in his professional career.

    He has racked up passing yards and served as the Carolina Panthers' goal line back. That's a rare combination of skills.

    However, with the good comes the bad.

    Newton has struggled with turnovers and has been unable to push this Carolina team to wins.

    So, with all the hype has Cam Newton been overrated?

Frame of Reference

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    Before deciding whether Cam Newton—or anyone for that matter—is overrated, a proper frame of reference is needed.

    The young quarterback burst onto the NFL scene which sent expectations skyrocketing.

    Newton is not an MVP candidate, nor a Pro Bowl player, but that's fine.

    He is a rookie quarterback and must be judged as such.

Passing Numbers

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    Cam Newton exploded out of the gates with over 400 yards passing in each of his first two starts.

    After Newton's record-breaking start, though, his passing totals have come back to earth.

    Since the 400-yard performances, he has topped 300 yards passing just once.

    Still, thanks to that incredible start and steady numbers since, Newton ranks sixth in the league in passing yards. 

    He has also thrown for 12 touchdowns, which ties him with Joe Flacco for 17th in the NFL.

    Tack on a respectable 60.0 completion percentage and Newton's passing totals through 11 weeks are impressive for a rookie. 

Rushing Ability

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    While the passing totals are solid, what really makes Cam Newton stand out is his ability to create with his legs.

    Newton trails only Michael Vick in rushing yards by a quarterback.

    However, his nine rushing touchdowns are far and away the most by a quarterback.

    Those nine touchdowns on the ground trail only Adrian Peterson and LeSean McCoy for tops in the league.

    On top of the yardage and touchdowns, Newton has used his rushing talent to move the chains. He ranks among the top 20 in the league—running backs included—with 29 rushes for a first down.

    Newton's success running the ball is key to evaluating him as a player. 

Turnovers

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    As is the case with nearly every rookie, Cam Newton has struggled with turnovers.

    He has thrown 14 interceptions, which is tied for third most in the league.

    Newton has also fumbled the ball nine times, five of which were recovered by the opposition.

    Turnovers are growing pains that are a part of any rookie's maturation process, but 19 giveaways is simply too many.

Team Record

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    Football is not played for individual stats and highlights. A quarterback's job is to lead his team to wins.

    At 2-8 the Panthers aren't getting it done and quarterbacks are always held responsible.

    The weak Carolina defense has not done Newton any favors, but in order to be great he must find ways to deliver wins.

Other Rookie Quarterback Performances

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    Now that we have discussed what Cam Newton is doing this year, it's time to take a look at what other rookies have done, or are doing.

    For comparison's sake I decided to look at Peyton Manning and Michael Vick's numbers from their rookie seasons.

    Manning is one of the best pocket passers of this generation and Vick is the greatest "running quarterback" in the history of the game.

    Add in the fact that each of these players was the first overall pick, like Newton, and there are grounds for comparison.

Pure Passer

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    Peyton Manning was drafted by the Indianapolis Colts in 1998 and came in as the Week 1 starter.

    Manning finished his rookie year with 3739 passing yards, 26 touchdowns, 28 interceptions and a 56.7 completion percentage.

    If we were to project Cam Newton's passing totals over a full 16-game season they would be: 4624 yards, 19.2 touchdowns and 22.4 interceptions with a 60.0 completion percentage.

    Newton's touchdown to interception ratio is comparable and his yardage is significantly better. This comparison does not even account for Newton's vastly superior production on the ground.

    I certainly don't mean to suggest that Cam Newton will go on to post "Manning-esque" numbers during his career.

    However, this does show that Newton grades out well when put up against one of the game's greatest passers.

Running Quarterback

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    Michael Vick was drafted in 2001, but didn't become a full-time starter until 2002.

    During the 2002 season Vick ran the ball 113 times for 777 yards and eight touchdowns over 15 games. 

    Projecting Newton's 2011 rushing totals over 15 games yields 617 yards on 115 carries with 13.5 touchdowns.

    Vick broke off 6.9 yards per carry versus Newton's 5.3.

    This comparison shows that while Vick is slightly more electrifying, Newton is at least in the same class. 

2011 Rookie Class

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    How are some of the other highly drafted rookies doing?

    Jake Locker looked good in a relief stint during Week 11, but hasn't seen much of the field.

    Blaine Gabbert is struggling mightily in Jacksonville.

    Christian Ponder has been decent, but unremarkable in four starts.

    Andy Dalton, a second-rounder, is putting together a strong season in Cincinnati. Dalton can't match Newton's yardage totals, but has the better touchdown to interception ratio.

    Most importantly, Dalton's team is 6-4 and in the playoff hunt.

    Cam Newton is easily ahead of the other first-round quarterbacks, but Dalton might have him beat.

So What's the Verdict?

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    If anyone is ready to anoint Cam Newton as a can't miss, elite-level superstar, then yes, that is overrating him.

    However, I believe that the vast majority of people have Newton pegged about right. He is a dynamic talent with impressive, but imperfect rookie numbers.

    If Newton is able to combine even fractions of Peyton Manning's passing and Michael Vick's rushing abilities, he will be special.

    The key for Newton is to cut down on mistakes and turnovers going forward. If Newton's decision-making improves, the Carolina Panthers will certainly start to win some games. 

    So, I will have to say fiction. Right now, Cam Newton is not overrated.