Going into the 2011 NFL Draft, many football "experts" were very standoffish when it came to Cam Newton. There were questions about his arm accuracy, his maturity and his attitude during his transition to the professional gridiron.
But as we look back to April 2011, how could there have been so many concerns surrounding Newton?
His 2011 campaign was nothing short of amazing. Simply put, Newton exceeded all expectations and put together one of the greatest rookie seasons in professional sports history.
So let's take a look at his work and put his incredibly impressive year in perspective. Here is Cam Newton's season in review.
The main concern surrounding Newton's transition into the NFL was his accuracy. There was no doubt Newton had the arm strength coming out of Auburn, but his ability or inability to make professional throws remained in question.
Newton, however, would quickly dispel that concern.
In his very first game in the league, Newton threw for an incredible 422 yards at a 24-for-37 clip. His professional debut also included two passing scores and a 77-yard touchdown pass to Steve Smith.
As if that wasn't impressive enough, Newton turned in yet another big yardage game through the air in his second game. Against the defending champion Green Bay Packers, Cam threw for 432 yards and nearly led the Panthers to what would have been a stunning upset win.
Newton's aerial assault would continue throughout his rookie season.
As we know, Cam broke Peyton Manning's record for most passing yards in a rookie season in Week 16. He finished with a total of 4,051 passing yards following a Week 17 defeat against New Orleans. He is now the only quarterback in NFL history to finish his rookie season with at least 4,000 passing yards.
Below are some notable quarterbacks, along with the number of full seasons it took for them to throw for at least 4,000 yards:
- Dan Marino (two seasons)
- Peyton Manning (two seasons)
- Brett Favre (four seasons)
- Tom Brady (five seasons)
- Drew Brees (five seasons)
- Warren Moon (seven seasons)
- Dan Fouts (seven seasons)
- John Elway (11 seasons)
Cam finished his rookie campaign with a total of 21 passing touchdowns. It isn't exactly a staggering total, but it's considerably impressive.
It is actually a nice amount for a rookie quarterback who received a great deal of scrutiny regarding his throwing game.
It should also be noted that Newton hit that total with a below-average receiving core. With the exception of Steve Smith, Newton targets included Brandon LaFell, Legadu Naanee and Armanti Edwards. LaFell and Edwards are in just their second seasons and have yet to develop.
Naanee is a decent target, but pretty unfavorable for the most part.
Newton has, however, made nice usage of his tight ends Greg Olsen and Jeremy Shockey. Newton connected with Olsen for five touchdowns and with Shockey for four.
Olsen and Shockey were correctly utilized, but the most important beneficiary of Newton's passing attack was Steve Smith. Smith closed out the 2011 season with 79 receptions, 1,394 yards and seven touchdowns. The obvious chemistry between No. 89 and his quarterback earned him yet another Pro Bowl selection—marking his fifth trip to the NFL's edition of the All-Star game.
Some notable quarterbacks who failed to reach 21 passing touchdowns in their first season as a starter of at least 14 games include: Tom Brady, Drew Brees, John Elway, Brett Favre, Joe Montana, Warren Moon, Fran Tarkenton and Steve Young.
Newton's passing game may have been a concern heading into the NFL, but his run game certainly wasn't. And from the looks of his rookie season, we all know this guy is the real deal when he takes off with his feet.
With Cam under center, the Carolina Panthers' rushing attack proved to be one of the league's best. Along with DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, Newton gave offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski a hell of a lot to work with. Newton allowed the Panthers to effectively utilize a number of formations—most notably the option.
The option play, previously believed to work only in college football, was a huge factor in Carolina's success on the ground.
The team finished the year with a league-leading 26 rushing touchdowns as well as an average of 150.5 rushing yards per game, ranking third overall.
Not only has Newton brought an actual passing game to Carolina, but he has also revitalized the ground attack the Panthers once, and now again, dominate.
Let me just start this stat by saying a quarterback broke a 35-year-old NFL record in his first season.
That statistic, you ask? Rushing touchdowns, of course.
Newton piled up a staggering 14 rushing touchdowns in his rookie season. Not only was it a rookie record, but Newton's 14 ended up as an all-time record.
In just the 12th game of the season, Newton scored his 13th touchdown on the ground—breaking Steve Grogan's previous record of 12. Newton added another rushing score within the last four games of the season.
In 2011, Cam scored more rushing touchdowns than 20 of the 32 NFL teams, as well as every player in the league with the exception of LeSean McCoy.
The 2010 season showed Carolina Panthers fans two things. One was that the Panthers were easily the worst team in the NFL. The second? Jimmy Clausen is just terrible.
Luckily for the fans and their franchise, Cam Newton fixed both of those problems.
In 2010, the Panthers finished dead last in just about every offensive statistic in the book. They ranked 32nd in total yards per game, passing yards per game, passing touchdowns, total touchdowns and points per game. They also ranked 31st in rushing touchdowns with seven.
Needless to say, the team finished with the worst record in the league, and they won just two games.
That season, however, would prove to be a blessing in disguise. Without the worst record in the league, the Panthers wouldn't have had the first overall selection in 2011. And with the first overall selection, they may not have had a chance to grab Cam Newton.
The Panthers looked like a totally different team under the leadership of Newton in 2011. Instead of ending with one of the worst offenses in the NFL, the Panthers finished near the top of many categories on offense. They scored the most rushing touchdowns in the NFL and finished amongst the Top 10 in points, total yards, rushing yards and passing yards.
Cam led his crew to six wins, tripling last season's lowly total.
Now, I'm not a big fan of giving all the credit for a team's wins to its quarterback. But if you take a close look, you could make that case for Cam Newton. Besides Greg Olsen and Jeremy Shockey, the only notable addition to the team during the offseason was Newton.
Essentially, the offense went from the worst to one of the best because of Newton.
Also take into account the struggling defense—which missed two of their best players in Jon Beason and Thomas Davis for nearly the entire season. Cam tripled the win total with a young and extremely inexperienced football team.
After watching Cam Newton grace the professional gridiron in 2011, the future of the Carolina Panthers certainly looks brighter than ever before.
No longer will this franchise carry out a losing mentality. Losing is not okay anymore. Cam Newton has made that clear, and he's here to change that. He has given the franchise a new look, a new feeling and a new attitude.
Newton has been a winner every where he has played, and he will look to keep that going in Charlotte, North Carolina.