Win. Your. League.

Receive 3 Free Downloads More Details

Spotlight: Cam Newton

posted by Jason Wood on Aug 4th


Jason Wood's thoughts

Last year in one of my favorite leagues, my good friend (and the league's commissioner) selected Cam Newton in the 12th round of our 20 round draft. He was ripped to shreds. After all, why did he need another quarterback (Newton was the third on his roster), particularly in the 12th round when he had so many other positions to fill out? And even if he could justify carrying three quarterbacks, why "waste" a pick on a rookie quarterback on a terrible team with no weapons? It was one of the major sticking points of the night, and he took flak from just about everyone - myself included.

You know how this story ends. My friend ended up rolling to our league's title (he also made great picks like Rob Gronkowski, Jordy Nelson and LeSean McCoy) with Newton under center. His first two quarterbacks - Sam Bradford and Kevin Kolb - were complete busts and he was able to use those positions to add depth elsewhere.

Needless to say, this personal anecdote probably typifies a lot of fantasy leagues last season. Newton was not only one of the most surprising fantasy stars last year, he was arguably one of the best value picks in the history of the hobby.

  • 310 completions
  • 517 attempts
  • 60% completion rate
  • 4,051 yards
  • 21 touchdowns
  • 17 interceptions
  • 126 rushes
  • 706 rushing yards
  • 14 rushing touchdowns
  • 431 fantasy points
  • QB5 ranking

As one can imagine, Newton's performance went so far beyond expectations, it truly represented an all-time best performance.

Best Rookie QB Performances in NFL History

Rank First Last Year PassYds PaTDs INTs RuYds RuTDs FPTs
1 Cam Newton 2011 4,051 21 17 706 14 426.9
2 Jim Kelly 1986 3,593 22 17 199 0 270.6
3 Peyton Manning 1998 3,739 26 28 62 0 269.2
4 Andy Dalton 2011 3,398 20 13 152 1 258.1
5 Sam Bradford 2010 3,512 18 15 63 1 244.9
6 Vince Young 2006 2,199 12 13 552 7 242.2
7 Matt Ryan 2008 3,440 16 11 104 1 241.4
8 Warren Moon 1984 3,338 12 14 211 1 228.0
9 Joe Flacco 2008 2,971 14 12 180 2 226.9
10 Rick Mirer 1993 2,833 12 17 343 3 225.0
11 Chris Weinke 2001 2,931 11 19 128 6 220.4
12 Fran Tarkenton 1961 1,997 18 17 308 5 215.7
13 Butch Songin 1960 2,476 22 15 40 2 212.8
14 Ben Roethlisberger 2004 2,621 17 11 144 1 208.5
15 Byron Leftwich 2003 2,819 14 16 108 2 203.8
16 Tim Couch 1999 2,447 15 13 278 1 203.2
17 Dan Marino 1983 2,210 20 6 45 2 201.0
18 Kerry Collins 1995 2,717 14 19 74 3 198.3
19 Jim Zorn 1976 2,571 12 27 246 4 198.2
20 David Carr 2002 2,592 9 15 282 3 196.8

Best Fantasy Seasons by a Quarterback of Any Age

Rank First Last Year Experience PassYds PaTDs INTs RuYds RuTDs FPTs
1 Drew Brees 2011 11 5,476 46 14 86 1 458.4
2 Tom Brady 2007 8 4,806 50 8 98 2 454.1
3 Aaron Rodgers 2011 7 4,643 45 6 257 3 449.9
4 Tom Brady 2011 12 5,235 39 12 109 3 434.7
5 Daunte Culpepper 2004 6 4,717 39 11 406 2 433.5
6 Dan Marino 1984 2 5,084 48 17 -7 0 428.5
7 Cam Newton 2011 1 4,051 21 17 706 14 426.9
8 Steve Young 1998 14 4,170 36 12 454 6 421.9
9 Peyton Manning 2004 7 4,557 49 10 38 0 417.7
10 Matthew Stafford 2011 3 5,038 41 16 78 0 407.7
11 Randall Cunningham 1990 6 3,466 30 13 942 5 404.5
12 Daunte Culpepper 2000 2 3,937 33 16 470 7 401.9
13 Steve Young 1994 10 3,969 35 10 293 7 399.8
14 Brett Favre 1995 5 4,413 38 13 181 3 395.8
15 Aaron Rodgers 2009 5 4,434 30 7 304 5 395.1
16 Jeff Garcia 2000 2 4,278 31 10 414 4 393.3
17 Dan Marino 1986 4 4,746 44 23 -3 0 390.0
18 Warren Moon 1990 7 4,689 33 13 215 2 387.0
19 Kurt Warner 1999 2 4,353 41 13 92 1 383.9
20 Steve Beuerlein 1999 12 4,436 36 15 124 2 375.2

To summarize, Cam Newton had the best rookie fantasy season in NFL history, and was almost 60% better than the 2nd best rookie season in history! As if that weren't impressive enough, his 2011 season ranks as the 7th best fantasy season by a quarterback of any age and experience.

What Can He Do For An Encore?
Newton has set unreal expectations for himself entering 2012. His average draft position stands at 19th overall and QB5. What's important to remember is that Newton doesn't have to match last year's heroics to deliver fantasy value. He just has to deliver QB5 or better numbers. Let's take a look at the 5th ranked fantasy quarterbacks over the last ten seasons:

Year First Last Team Cmps Atts PaYds TDs INTs Rush RuYds RuTDs FPTs
2011 Cam Newton CAR 310 517 4,051 21 17 126 706 14 431
2010 Philip Rivers SD 357 541 4,710 30 13 29 52 - 365
2009 Peyton Manning IND 393 571 4,500 33 16 19 (13) - 357
2008 Jay Cutler DEN 384 616 4,526 25 18 57 200 2 347
2007 Ben Roethlisberger PIT 264 404 3,154 32 11 35 204 2 328
2006 Michael Vick ATL 204 388 2,474 20 13 123 1,039 2 314
2005 Eli Manning NYG 294 557 3,762 24 17 29 80 1 288
2004 Jake Plummer DEN 303 521 4,089 27 20 62 202 1 326
2003 Aaron Brooks NO 306 518 3,546 24 8 54 175 2 311
2002 Drew Bledsoe BUF 375 610 4,359 24 15 27 67 2 327
AVG 2002- 2011 319 524.3 3,917 26 15 56 271 3 339

Newton could suffer a 20% decline in his fantasy output and still be the odds on favorite to finish as QB5 or better.

Bifurcating Newton's Game - Downside of the Rushing, Upside of the Passing
Newton ran for an inhuman 14 touchdowns last year, and Newton's skeptics believe he could be due for a precipitous fall off in year two. One thing is certain, rushing touchdowns are VERY hard to predict. And history is NOT on Newton's side.

Rank First Last Year TDs Year+1 TDs Change
1 Cam Newton 2011 14 2012 TBD TBD
2 Steve Grogan 1976 12 1977 1 -11
3 Kordell Stewart 1997 11 1998 2 -9
4 Daunte Culpepper 2002 10 2003 4 -6
5 Billy Kilmer 1961 10 1962 5 -5
6 Greg Landry 1972 9 1973 2 -7
7 Michael Vick 2010 9 2011 1 -8
8 Bobby Douglass 1972 8 1973 5 -3
9 Vince Evans 1980 8 1981 3 -5
10 Jack Kemp 1963 8 1964 5 -3
11 Jack Kemp 1960 8 1961 6 -2
12 Steve McNair 1999 8 2000 0 -8
13 Steve McNair 1997 8 1998 4 -4
14 Michael Vick 2002 8 2003 1 -7
15 Terry Bradshaw 1972 7 1973 3 -4
16 Daunte Culpepper 2000 7 2001 5 -2
17 Al Dorow 1960 7 1961 4 -3
18 Jeff Garcia 2003 7 2004 2 -5
19 Eric Hipple 1981 7 1982 0 -7
20 Kordell Stewart 2000 7 2001 5 -2
21 Don Trull 1966 7 1967 3 -4
22 Steve Young 1994 7 1995 3 -4
23 Vince Young 2006 7 2007 3 -4
Average 8.43 3.0 -5.4

Quarterbacks have run for 7 or more rushing touchdowns only 23 times in NFL history. As you can see, everyone has scored fewer times in the next season. On average, rushing totals have fallen more than 50% year-over-year. Now before you start yelling at me saying, "Cam is different!"...I'm not arguing with you. It's up to YOU to decide whether Newton is going to break the mold. He has the talent, but if you're being honest with yourselves, so have quite a few of these other quarterbacks.

Why A Big Drop in Rushing TDs Might Not Be A Big Deal

Let's say you're convinced Newton's rushing TDs are going to fall off a cliff; what if I were to tell you it STILL MIGHT be worth drafting Newton at his current ADP? Consider the following scenario, let's say Cam Newton put up exactly the same numbers this year, but his rushing TDs went from last year's 14 scores to ZERO?

  • 4,051 passing yards
  • 21 pass TDs
  • 17 interceptions
  • 706 rushing yards
  • 0 rushing TDs
  • 344 fantasy points

Newton could score zero times on the ground, and if he can just maintain the rest of his stat line, he would still score 344 fantasy points - which is more than he needs to finish QB5 in a typical season!

Now let's step back into reality. Newton isn't going to score 14 touchdowns, but he's also not going to score zero times. Whether it's 10 scores or 5 scores will matter, but not enough to keep him from the top 5 at his position.

Don't Forget About His Improvement As A Passer

The flipside of worrying about his rushing TDs falling is the expectation that his passing skills will improve. How many quarterbacks plateau as a rookie? Newton didn't even have a standard training camp last season to learn the offense. This year he's going to make better decisions, the game is going to slow down, and he'll have better rapport with his receivers. Newton could EASILY improve his passing numbers, which would at least partially offset the likelihood of fewer rushing scores.

Positives

  • Newton shattered the record books last year, delivering not only the best rookie quarterback season in NFL history, but the 7th best fantasy season of all time (of any age and experience)
  • Newton showed elite athleticism but also a lot more polish as a passer than most expected. This year he should markedly improve as a passer and decision maker, as he'll have a full offseason working with his teammates and coaches
  • Even if Newton failed to score a rushing TD in 2012, he would likely be a top 5 fantasy quarterback as long as he can maintain the rest of his stat line

Negatives

  • The Panthers haven't added anyone of note (unless you count Louis Murphy) to the receiving corps
  • The offensive line continues to have question marks, with Carolina parting ways with Jeff Otah in early August
  • Newton's propensity to run puts him in greater danger of a serious injury, at least in some people's minds

Final thoughts

No one had any reason to expect Cam Newton to do what he did in 2011. This year, many are wondering if he can possibly match last year's heroics. I think that's asking the wrong question. I would instead ask, does he HAVE to match them to justify his draft position? As long as Newton shows some growth as a passer (and why wouldn't he?), he could suffer a significant step down in his rushing TD output and remain an every week, elite fantasy starter. Newton shouldn't be the first quarterback off the board, but I have no objections about him being an early round choice as your every week starter, either.


Quotations from the message board thread

To view the entire Player Spotlight thread (there's a ton of fantastic commentary in there), click here.

TheDirtyWord said:

Some people are big believers in taking portions of a season and pro-rating statistical production over 16 games to make a point. Some are not. I fall more into the former category when I can take a sizable consistent stretch that also generally leads to the completion of a season.

Cam Newton took the NFL by storm. Pre-season games were dissected and in some cases torn apart. I remember a pre-season 30+ yard completion being debunked because the commentator remarked that the play should have been a touchdown, but the throw was behind the receiver. Make no mistake, most 'in the know' people thought the NFL was going to teach Cam Newton a rough lesson. This did not occur.

With that said, the Panthers usage of Newton during the first 4 games of the season versus that last 12 bears some scrutiny. During the first 4 games, Newton attempted an average of 40.8 passes/game. Over the next 12, this average fell to 29.5, a close to 27% reduction. In addition, his YPA came down from 8.5 to 7.5. No doubt these are respectable numbers that don't even take into account his impact in the running game and inside the 5 where he essentially is already the best goal line runner in the NFL.

But are we expecting his passing numbers (4051 Passing Yards, 21 TD's, 7.8 YPA) to improve just because he's in Year 2? This has not been the case for Matt Ryan or Sam Bradford...two QB's who unexpectedly played well as rookies only to run into turbulence in Year 2.

The Panthers, despite Newton's lofty production most definitely shifted away from having him handle the ball 49 plays/game. The last 12 games saw this number decrease to 37.25. If I'm guessing, a happy medium will be in the 40-41 plays/game if only because at 49, the Panthers are simply not diversifying their offense enough given some of the pieces they have. Plus, despite his imposing size - exposure is exposure and the Panthers would do well to not overexpose their best player.

Despite Newton's prowess inside the 10, I can't see the Panthers relying on him as heavily there (Newton accounted for 9 of the 15 TD's here) when Williams & Stewart would seem to be able to carry some of this load. Plus, I can see this being a counter to teams who will target Newton in this area of the field. Overall, my feeling is that Newton's ceiling will be capped by the Panthers usage of him and also because I do expect some leveling off in terms of how prolific he could be and I expect that he'll be less productive in FF2012 than he was in 2011. But he's still a Top 5-6 QB.

fightingillini said:

I am not sure why anyone wouldn't believe Newton is a top 5 QB this year. You know that he's going to get 500+ yards on the ground, along with 3700+ pass yards. While he isn't going to score 14 TDs on the ground, he's a pretty safe bet for 6-7. All he needs to do is cut down on the interceptions and throw a couple more TD passes and he will be right there as a top 5 QB. The CAR offense will run through Newton.

3850 pass yds, 23 TD, 16 Int
675 rush yds, 7 TD

These stats are equivalent to 4600 yds passing, 40 TD, and 12 Int with a scoring system of 1 pt per 25 yds passing, 1 pt per 10 yards rushing, 4 pts per TD pass and 6 pts per TD run....-2 pts per INT. 4600-40-12 are MVP numbers. Now if passing TDs are 6pts instead of 4 pts, Newton's projection would equal 4200-30-12. So Newton is a top 5 QB easily when TD passes are 4 pts, and is more of a top 7-8 QB with all TDs 6 pts. Most leagues score TD passes less than TD runs, so in most leagues Newton is a top 5 QB.

Modog814 said:

[On why people are projecting a big cut in Newton's rushing TDs...]Because they started to eliminate the Newton runs last year toward the end of the season. Here are runs inside the 10 yard line last year. Over the first 8 games Newton got 15 out of the 24 runs inside the 10. He converted 5 of them, while the others converted 3, so both 33%. In the last 8 weeks, Newton got only 7 of the 17 runs inside the 10. He converted 4 (57%) and the others also converted 4 (40%). Also notice that by the end of the year, you saw the distribution go almost to 50/50, and I expect this trend to continue and ultimately be closer to 40/60.


Cam Newton projections

CMPATTPYDPTDINTRSHYDRSHTD
Jason Wood322530385023155506
Message board consensus315524397023156298