Cam Newton: Breaking Down Why Newton's Rookie Season Was Not a Fluke

Wes StueveContributor IIIJuly 24, 2012

January 1, 2012; New Orleans, LA, USA; Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) prior to kickoff of a game against the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE
Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE

In 2011, Cam Newton turned in one of the best rookie performances ever, breaking numerous rookie records.

No one is denying that.

Some are, however, denying that Newton can continue to play at such a high level. They use a variety of arguments. He's going to face touchdown regression (h/t Patrick Daugherty, Rotoworld.com). He's going to struggle now that defenses have seen him. He's too one-dimensional.

They are wrong.

The fact is that last year Newton made some plays that we've never seen before. He is, to date, the best combination of a passing and running quarterback in history. That's not something defenses adjust to.

Everyone knows how physically gifted Newton is, but some choose to overlook it—declare it overrated. Like many things, physical ability is overrated until it is needed.

Newton's size is overrated until he's clearly seeing the open field while shaking off defensive linemen. His speed and running ability is overrated until he's escaping pressure and scoring touchdowns on the ground. His arm strength is overrated until he's threading the ball for a touchdown between two defenders.

The fact is that physical tools are not overrated, as Cam Newton shows week in, week out. 

Watch this play and say that Newton's size and running ability are overrated.

Here, we see Newton, on third down, escape pressure and turn what should have been a drive-killing sack into a big gain. That play saved the drive and ended up giving the Carolina Panthers three points. 

Now if you're thinking, "Well yeah, Newton can run, but he can't do anything else." You're entirely wrong.

Here, Newton displays not only his extraordinary arm strength and ball placement, but also an ability to read the defense. On this play, 257-pound linebacker Brian Orakpo is the only up-close coverage on Brandon LaFell. That's a clear mismatch.

Behind Orakpo is cornerback Kevin Barnes playing safety. Barnes is shaded towards the middle of the field, and with Legedu Naanee clearing out Josh Wilson along the sideline, LaFell has the outside to himself. Newton sees all of this and targets LaFell from the snap.

If that's not enough to convince you Newton can throw the ball, here's another play for good measure.

Now, at first glance, this looks like a simple, albeit well-thrown slant. Not a whole lot to see here. And for the most part, that's true.

But it's another example of Newton reading the coverage and taking advantage of it. Look at this shot before the play.

Newton sees DeAngelo Hall playing in a soft zone coverage. He's looking right at Newton, playing well off the line. This is a perfect time for a slant, and Newton realizes it. 

He throws a perfect pass, giving his No. 1 playmaker, Steve Smith, space to make a play with the ball. 

Many accuse Newton of being an all-or-nothing player, but this is a perfect example of him taking what the defense gave him and making a solid play. That's a sign of an NFL quarterback.

In 2011, Newton passed for 4,051 yards and 21 touchdowns while completing 60 percent of his passes. He gained an additional 706 yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground.

It seems reasonable, maybe even logical to think that Newton can't repeat this. Few have.

But Newton is unlike anyone we have ever seen in the NFL. There simply has never been a player in the NFL with Newton's combination of size, running ability and passing ability. 

Many point to Vince Young's impressive rookie season and later struggles as a model for Newton's career. As a rookie, Young passed for just 2,199 yards and 12 touchdowns while completing 51.5 percent of his passes. 

Young rushed for 552 yards and seven touchdowns. 

Yeah, these two are comparable all right.

Young was a talented player, no doubt, but he was never as good as Newton is. 

So what can we expect from Newton?

We can expect him to improve as a passer. Last year, he was still transitioning from Auburn's spread option offense to an NFL scheme.

In 2012, Newton will have his offense down, and he will have more experience reading the defense and making NFL progressions. He will have spent time with coaches improving his footwork and mechanics.

As for whether Newton's rushing touchdowns will in fact regress, that remains to be seen. The one thing regression theory doesn't account for, however, is Newton's transcendent ability. There has never been a quarterback with such red-zone ability.

Can you think of another quarterback who has the type of running ability in the first video to go with 6'5", 248-pound size?

Now, while impressive, Newton's mental ability isn't exactly rare. Many quarterbacks are at the same level there. Not many of these quarterbacks are rookies coming out of a spread offense, though.

The difference between Newton and many quarterbacks is the physical ability he displayed on all three of these plays, and throughout the entire 2011 season. Few quarterbacks are capable of doing the things Newton does with the ball.

This ability, combined with more-than-adequate mental capacity, is why Cam Newton is on his way to taking over the NFL in a big, big way.


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