How Will Cam Newton Fare In Year Three?
By Blake Baxter
Last season, four NFL quarterbacks – Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson, Andrew Luck and Colin Kaepernick – unexpectedly took the league by storm and led their teams to the playoffs. Of the four, only two had any real expectations on them to start the year. Andrew Luck was the number one pick in the draft by the Indianapolis Colts and was the most highly touted quarterback in years. He was stepping in for one of the best quarterbacks of all time in Peyton Manning. RG3 was the ultra-talented, dual threat Heisman Trophy winner selected right behind Luck. He was tasked with turning around the Washington Redskins – a franchise that had made the playoffs just twice in the past decade. The other two were a second round pick – Colin Kaepernick for the San Francisco 49ers – and a third round pick – Russell Wilson for the Seattle Seahawks. Of the four, Kaepernick was the only one who did not get selected to the Pro Bowl. However, Kaepernick surprisingly ended up becoming the one who led his team to the Super Bowl. Statistically, Luck had the best season, but all were terrific in their own way.
In fact, the rookie quarterbacks were so good that many forgot that a year before, the football universe was fawning over the attributes of another rookie quarterback. The year before, Carolina Panthers QB Cam Newton was the 2011 version of all of those youngsters combined. Like Andrew Luck, he was the number one pick in the draft. Like Robert Griffin III, he was as big of a threat on the ground as he was in the air. He made the Pro Bowl, just as Luck, Griffin and Wilson did. He threw for more yards and touchdowns (4,051 yards and 21 touchdowns) than all except for Luck, had more rushing yards than any except for Griffin, recorded seven rushing touchdowns and broke a slew of rookie records. So what happened last year?
Last year, Newton was left in no man’s land. He was no longer a part of the young quarterback discussion because of the depth of the class below him. But he certainly was not a member of the elite group above him that included guys like Aaron Rodgers, division rivals Drew Brees and Matt Ryan, or even Joe Flacco, who made the leap last season and netted an obscene new contract in the offseason. However, that is not to say that his 2012 season was bad. On the contrary, Newton improved statistically in some categories. He had a higher quarterback rating, rushed for more yards, threw fewer interceptions and led the league in yards per completion with 13.8.
The main problem was that he did not have enough help and put too much pressure on himself. The Panthers got off to a disastrous 2-8 start that put Newton into a little bit of a funk. He was criticized and accused of having a bad attitude for his sour demeanor that he displayed on the sidelines. Some considered it a sign that Newton was not mature enough to be a leader. Whether or not this was fair is up for debate, but in retrospect, it is hard to blame him for being a little bit down. His top target was an aging receiver that had been the team’s best for a decade and his second best option was a tight end. Oh, and the running game? He was the team’s leading rusher. The pressure took its toll and there is a good chance it would on any young quarterback.
This season though, the 24-year-old quarterback is refusing to make excuses for himself. He claims to have taken his rough sophomore season as a learning experience and is willing to take responsibility for the team’s performance. He can only control so much, but if he is focused only on what he can do to improve the team rather than what other guys are doing to contribute, then Newton could be a force to be reckoned with once again. And, if he manages to get a little more help this time around, then do not be surprised to hear his name associated with the other young rising quarterbacks, or possibly even among the league’s elite. If not, then it could be another season in no man’s land.