Fantasy Football 2012 Player Profile: QB Cam Newton (Part 1 of 2)
Cam Newton celebrating a rushing TD
Cam Newton set the fantasy football word on fire during his 2011 rookie season. He set the all time record (!) for rushing touchdowns by a QB and had 706 rushing yards. In addition, he held his own as a passer, throwing for over 4000 yards and 21 TDs. While his TD-INT ratio of 21-17 is not overly impressive, 17 INTs in a full sixteen-game season is not terrible, especially for a rookie. In short, he had an elite fantasy football season, and it was just his first year in the league!
The question before us, of course, is can he repeat or even improve on those numbers in 2012? Some mock drafts have him going in the first round. Mock auctions have him going as an elite player (read here to learn about basic auction tips or here and here for a two-part Hub on advanced auction strategy). Almost all draft rankings have him and Matthew Stafford as the 4th- and 5th-ranked QB. Clearly, there's lots of optimism from drafters and experts. That makes sense. If he was incredible in his first year, he should be even better in his second (so it goes)! Before accept automatically that he's a top-5 fantasy QB, though, let's assess.
How is Cam Newton's near unanimous top-5 QB rating for 2012?
When measuring a QB's numbers, passing stats almost always come first. When a QB is such a prolific rusher, however, it's his numbers as a runner that make him stand out. In most leagues, rushing yards are at least twice as valuable as passing yards. That would give Newton the equivalent value of more than 1400 additional yards passing (or more if your league values rushing yards as more than twice as valuable as passing yards). Fantasy leagues tend to be split on the value of passing TDs, with most giving 6 or 4 points. His rushing TDs would thus translate to an additional 14 or 21 passing TDs! It is clear, therefore, that, with Newton, we have to look at his rushing numbers first.
Before we predict Newton's rushing numbers in 2012, let's take a look at some of the most prolific rushing QBs of the past decade to see if we can determine a trend. I looked at all the QBs in the league since 2001 who had at least 1 rushing TD for every two games played (with a minimum of 5 games played). There were only seven over the past decade. Let's see how they fared from one year to the next.
QB Name and Year
Rushing TDs / Games Played
Rushing TDs / Games Played the next year
Donavan McNabb, 2002
6 / 10
3 / 16
Michael Vick, 2002
8 / 15
1 / 5
Daunte Culpepper, 2002
10 / 16
4 / 14
Jeff Garcia, 2003
7 / 13
2 / 11
Tim Tebow, 2010
6 / 9
6 / 14
Michael Vick, 2010
9 / 12
1 / 13
Cam Newton, 2011
14 / 16
8.6 / 13.0
2.83 / 12.2
0.66 Rush TDs / Game
0.23 Rush TDs / Game
You could also add Kordell Stewart (1997, 11/16; 1998, 2/16) and Stan Grogan (1976, 12/14; 1977, 1/14) -- the only other QBs since 1961 with 10+ rushing TDs in a season -- to the mix. But, that doesn't help the numbers at all. In fact, only Tim Tebow (who played in a very unique offensive scheme) came close to that 1 TD per 2 game ratio!
To put it simply, those numbers aren't pretty. Not a single QB improved on his rushing touchdown stats either by raw numbers or by ratio. The good news, though, is that -- with the exception of Vick in 2003 -- the QBs did tend to play most of the season. So, the fear of injury is debunked by this group of running QBs. But, these players, overall, were about one-third as statistically productive in rushing in touchdowns in the year following their big year break-out year. That trend does not bode well for Newton in 2012.
Of course, trends are just that: trends and not definitive predictors. Unfortunately, I cannot be optimistic that Newton will break the trend. Even if he manages to rush for 8 TDs in 16 games -- breaking the trend, mind you! -- that is still a significant drop-off from his previous year's 14. Most teams tend to want to protect their franchise QBs, and rushes at the goal-line expose them to disproportionate risk. In addition, they also want to develop their QBs as passers, thus calling a few more passing plays in the red-zone. I see no reason to think that the Panthers will be the exception. Furthermore, they signed Mike Tolbert in the off-season, a great goal-line back. They now have three RBs very capable of punching in red-zone rushing TDs. Carolina will certainly continue to pound it in from the goal-line. I just see those TDs coming from Cam's total and going to the RBs, most likely Tolbert.
If that weren't enough, every one of the aforementioned QBs rushed for fewer yards per game in the year following their break-out season, further supporting the likely diminished rushing workload of Newton.
Can Cam Newton break the rushing stats trend?
So, the trends are clear: the odds of Newton duplicating or repeating his rushing success are extremely low. It is much more likely that he will have a drop-off -- and probably a significant one -- in his rushing stats. That hurts his 2012 fantasy value tremendously unless you believe one of two possibilities: (1) Newton will prove to be the singular exception to the rule; or (2) his passing stats will increase enough to compensate for the decrease in his rushing stats. If the former, then his #4 or #5 ranking is too low, but you'll have to work hard to convince me: clearly, I'm not that in camp.
Does this mean that his 2012 ranking is definitely too low? Not necessarily. For my assessment of his passing numbers -- and to find out how I ultimately value Newton in 2012 -- you'll have to read Part 2 of this Hub.
Where do think my assessment is correct? Where do think that I got it wrong? Please share your comments below.