Can Cam Newton Finally Return to MVP Form?

Brad Gagnon@Brad_Gagnon NFL National ColumnistJuly 13, 2019

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton arrives at the NFL football team's mini-camp practice in Charlotte, N.C., Tuesday, June 11, 2019. (AP Photo/Nell Redmond)
NELL REDMOND/Associated Press

Take a look at early MVP odds for the 2019 NFL season, and you'll have to scroll to find the man who won that award just four years ago.

Eleven names are listed above Cam Newton's, even though the 2015 MVP should be in his prime at age 30, is well-supported offensively and might actually be healthy again. 

The veteran Carolina Panthers quarterback wasn't himself while battling a balky throwing shoulder in 2018. 

"I was weak, you know, and I felt so vulnerable," Newton said of his injury-derailed campaign on his YouTube vlog, "I felt so scared. I felt so afraid because I knew I wasn't myself. I didn't know what the f--k was wrong with my shoulder. I just knew that it hurt, and I knew that it was an issue. I couldn't throw the ball further than, like, 30 yards, no lie. ... So I was trying to, you know, keep up with it as much as possible, that I could, until the wheels fell off."

But Newton underwent arthroscopic surgery on said shoulder in late January, and after ramping up his throwing during the team's June minicamp, he appears to be on track to practice without limitations when training camp kicks off on July 24. 

Brendan Marks of the Charlotte Observer reported this week that the three-time Pro Bowler is "slated to be a full participant" then, so we oughta start paying more attention to one of the most uniquely talented matchup nightmares in professional sports. 

Newton won't just benefit from his apparent recovery, but the improving health of those around him as well.

Veteran tight end Greg Olsen was severely limited by a foot injury last season, but the three-time Pro Bowler also went under the knife back in December and said he was fully cleared in May. Meanwhile, 2017 breakout offensive tackle Daryl Williams played in just one game after suffering a knee injury in training camp last year, but Max Henson of the team's official website reported in June that the 26-year-old was "on track" to report for training camp after what Panthers head coach Ron Rivera called "a great offseason."

Jason E. Miczek/Associated Press

But it's not as though Newton's cupboard would be bare without his right tackle or his longtime tight end, because he's also got one of the most tantalizing young offensive duos in the NFL at his disposal.

Wide receiver D.J. Moore just turned 22, and running back Christian McCaffrey is only a month removed from his 23rd birthday. The former was one of only five wide receivers to average more than 14 yards per reception and catch at least 67 percent of the passes thrown his way on 30 or more receptions in 2018, and he did so as a rookie. The latter was the team's top rusher and receiver in just his second year. 

Moore was hardly a factor in his first nine career games before breaking out with 471 yards in the final seven weeks of the year, and that happened despite the fact Newton was either ineffective or unavailable during that stretch. Meanwhile, only Saquon Barkley and Ezekiel Elliott accumulated more yards from scrimmage than McCaffrey. 

Chuck Burton/Associated Press

Imagine how much better those players can perform with another offseason under their belts and with a quarterback who can actually get the ball down the field. 

Imagine what Moore, McCaffrey, Olsen, Williams, new center Matt Paradis, blossoming left tackle Taylor Moton and veteran peripheral receivers Torrey Smith, Chris Hogan, Jarius Wright and Curtis Samuel can do for Newton. 

Working against those expecting a big season from Newton is the fact that he also struggled with both consistency and accuracy in 2016 and 2017. But his supporting cast wasn't as strong then either.

Among 39 qualified running backs from that two-year span, top Carolina back Jonathan Stewart ranked 35th with a yards-per-attempt average of 3.6. Newton also didn't have a wide receiver go over 1,000 yards in either season.

With a strong arsenal and a repaired shoulder, an optimist might suggest the stars are aligning this summer. 

David Richard/Associated Press

We already know what Newton can do with his legs—only three running backs have more rushing touchdowns than him this decade, and he ran for nearly 500 yards in 14 games last season—but now his arm should be back, too. 

We don't know if Newton will dominate deep into his 30s, because there's no precedent for a 6'5", 245-pound quarterback with 4.6 speed and a missile arm. But quarterbacks often only begin to hit their stride at his age.

Aaron Rodgers was the MVP in his age-31 season. Drew Brees posted the highest QBR of his career in an age-30 Super Bowl campaign. Tom Brady's highest-rated season came when he was a 30-year-old MVP. Three of Peyton Manning's five MVP seasons came after he turned 32. 

Newton could be declining, but it's possible he's been mired in a tough-luck slump. Now, he could be on the verge of a return to superstardom. 


Brad Gagnon has covered the NFL for Bleacher Report since 2012.


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