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With his third playoff game just hours away, Cam Newton finds himself in a similar situation to the one that ended his season last year. Throughout Newton's college and professional career he has been a very controversial figure. The few off-the-field problems seem to be behind him now, but the questions about his play and character during the course of games always take surface. While there could be reason to doubt Newton, I think it's just easy to criticize truly polarizing athletes. That being said, let's glance at Newton's career so far and see if he is a great asset to his team.
First off, let's squash this “he's not a leader” nonsense. I saw this guy run out on the field while injured to yell at his offensive line for not blocking well enough for his backup...his backup. They went on to win that game, so I think the message was received. You see him get upset, but what many don't understand, this guy just does not like to lose. He was a top quarterback in high school, he was a national champion in junior college, he won the Heisman, and he won the NCAA National Championship. And on top of all that, he was a number one overall pick in the draft. This guy has been winning his whole life, we have to give him some time to learn how to lose. And, if you think about all the success he's had, you know his confidence is sky high and it shows through his play.
Standing at 6'5 and weighing in at about 250 lbs. (but he's probably closer to 6'6 260), Newton just might be the largest quarterback in the NFL. Size alone makes tackling him a daunting task, but with his 4.6 speed, amazing awareness, and cat-like agility, getting him down seems to be nearly impossible. All that sounds good, but since entering the league, Newton has finished top ten in sacks every season. He didn't even play in all sixteen games this season and he's tied for 8th place. Peyton Manning has never been on that list with Newton and Tom Brady has accompanied Newton once, resulting in Brady's worst completion percentage since 03. 33 quarterbacks have been sacked more than Peyton Manning this season...33. Manning has played all season so there are several guys that got sacked more over six game spans than Manning has over sixteen, that's impressive, but that's what a good line can do. I'm not a quarterback, but I know that takes a large toll on your level of play.
We all remember the historic rookie season Newton had. He set the NFL single-season record for most rushing touchdowns by a quarterback; the most passing yards by a rookie on opening day (422); what was then the record for passing yards through the first two games (854); the then record for most passing yards in a single season for a rookie. That year he earned rookie of the year and pro bowl honors. As impressive as all of that is, the panthers finished 6-10, due, in large part, to them having the worst defense in the entire league that season. You can't prosper without a defense, just can't.
He has yet to return to the 4,000 yds. club and he has a sub-60 career completion percentage. Sounds bad, but guess who was the leader in career completion percentage till just weeks ago. Chad Pennington. Hall of Famer? Of course not. Also, Dan Marino, arguably the greatest passer ever is under 60 percent as well, he was certainly no scrub. Meaningless statistic? No. Overvalued? Yes. What do Newton and Marino have in common? They can flat out make plays.
Last Year, the Panthers finished 12-4, winning their division and getting a first-round playoff bye. Newton's play at quarterback and some stellar defensive efforts carried that injury plagued, low ammunition offense. Newton posted a career low in turnovers that season, a high in touchdowns, and a high in passer rating, all while being sacked a career high 43 times. Like Coach Klein once said “he's a resilient guy.” That year, Newton was very efficient, but the statistical production was not eye popping. The lack of numbers, I attribute to the lack of receivers and poor offensive scheming. Last year, Newton had Greg Olsen, an aging Steve Smith, an undeveloped Brandon LaFell, and a shaky Ted Ginn Jr. to throw to. Rough, I know. This off-season, the GM decided to clean shop for no apparent reason. He told all the wide receivers to hit the road, including future hall of famer, Steve Smith. All new receivers were brought in and only one looks to be a solid 1 or 2 receiver option and that is rookie Kelvin Benjamin, the first round pick out of FSU. Benjamin is very talented with his large frame (6'5 240lbs) and good speed, but other than him, the only place Newton can find consistency is in his veteran tight end, Greg Olsen. Help this guy out. Please.
Let's talk about this Offensive Coordinator, Mike Shula. HE. MUST. GO. He is yet another coach benefiting from family success (i.e. Rob Ryan and Jay Gruden). Just watch the offense, you'll forget you're even watching an NFL game. He wasn't any good at Alabama and fans hated him, he finished with 26-23 record as a head coach over four seasons at Alabama with almost half of those wins coming from a Cinderella 10-2 season in 2005. In Tampa Bay, he was the offensive brains from 96-99. In 96, the offense finished 28th out of 30 teams; in 97, 29th out of 30; in 98, 22nd out of 30; and in 99, 28th out of 31. So, I use the term “offensive brains” very lightly. He was not good then and he isn't good now, but this season he managed to be 16th in offense, a career high for him as a coordinator. Kudos to Shula on achieving mediocre status, he's really stepping it up nowadays.
Newton, physically might be the most gifted player in the league. He's big, he's fast, he's agile, he's strong, he's got touch and he's got a cannon for an arm. On top of all that, he's very marketable. He speaks well, the camera loves him, and he is exciting to watch. This guy epitomizes “swag,” you can see his big white teeth after every touchdown. While many people love him, there are even more that love to hate him and that's what it's like to be the face of anything, just ask Jordan, LeBron, or Tiger. And, like 68% of the NFL, he is a black man, so it only makes sense for the league to have a black face. He could very easily become the face of the league and I would love to see it. He really does have what it takes to be number one.
My man, Cam is just oozing with potential and he is on the brink of reaching his full potential. He has the highest average yards of total offense over a career of any quarterback ever with 293. Don't pay too much attention to career averages because he's only played four seasons, I'm just informing of you of the body of work, so hear me out. Surround him with the proper coaching staff, an offensive line and a few veteran presences at receiver and he can be prolific. I promise you.
I have faith that they can upset Seattle tonight. They only lost to Seattle by four points when they played in the regular season with Newton turning it over twice. I say if they can limit turnovers to just 1, the Panthers can walk out with a victory. Seattle is vastly overrated and Russell Wilson is not a better than Cam Newton, that is blasphemy, his team and organization are better because he got drafted in the third round and he came into a better situation, he lucked up. I don't care about his Super Bowl win, he's not a top ten quarterback. I'm ranting, but I will continue on another date. Enjoy the game. Go Panthers!
D.K. Spikes II