Cam Newton Narratives: Fair or Unfair

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Sep 12, 2019; Charlotte, NC, USA; Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) drops back to pass against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the fourth quarter at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Cam Newton was signed by the New England Patriots recently. After nine seasons with the Carolina Panthers, he was let go in favor of a new direction. Over the last few months, many narratives have started to surround Newton. Some are fair criticisms of the 2015 MVP. Others are people grasping at straws just to tear down the divisive star. Here is a look at some Cam Newton narratives and whether they are fair or unfair to the former Auburn Tiger.

Fair Cam Newton Narratives:

Accuracy:

Using completion percentage alone can make for some weird debates. Completion percentage is a function of factors such as depth of the target, receiver quality, and ball placement. For his career in general, Newton has taken slightly higher risk throws in terms of depth. His yards per completion is ranked second among active quarterbacks, trailing Jameis Winston. Yards per completion is far from a perfect stat, but it can show Newton is pushing the ball down the field slightly more than average. In his career with the Panthers, Newton never had a no-doubt elite wide receiver. His best pass catchers were tail-end Steve Smith, Greg Olsen, and rookies Kelvin Benjamin and D.J. Moore. Taking receiver quality and drops into account, Newton likely lost out on a handful of completions per season.

However, Newton’s mechanics have been inconsistent for a large part of his career. For every extra incompletion because of the depth of target or a drop, Newton likely misplaced a ball or two. A career 59.6 completion percentage is likely a tad misleading, but his accuracy problems are real. However, the depth of target and difficulty of throw will likely go down if Newton plays a similar role to 2019 Tom Brady. If 2018 Newton’s 67.9 completion percentage shows up in 2020, watch out.

Diva:

Newton has garnered quite a reputation off the field. He can be brash, cocky, and over the top. His Instagram uses a font that only true meme connoisseurs can decipher. His postgame wardrobe ranges from Russell Westbrook to an attempt of being a fashion model. He has walked out of press conferences. He has been one of the more animated sideline personalities in the league. Can he be difficult to work with? Perhaps. Is he still worth a roster spot despite some of the headaches? Yes. Many of the NFL’s best players have diva tendencies. When he wins, only rivals call Newton out on being a diva. When he loses, the diva persona is used as a scapegoat. However, it may not be a problem in New England.

Unfair Cam Newton Narratives:

Not a Leader:

Leadership comes in many forms. Some are more reserved in their leadership. Leaders like Newton can sometimes be too vocal or cover too much of the spotlight. However, Newton checks off many of the traditional leadership boxes. He was a champion in college. He has a winning record in the pros. Newton led a subpar supporting cast to a Super Bowl appearance in 2015. In many cases, those three facts alleviate leadership concerns. Newton can galvanize his team and create magic out of nothing. He may not be a traditional leader type, but Newton is a leader.

4,000-Yard Seasons:

Newton has one season with 4,000 yards, his rookie season. While this is initially a red flag in the 21st century, let’s examine the context. Between 2011 and 2018, Cam threw more than 500 passes in a season just twice. His maximum number of attempts came in his rookie season (517). Of the 186 seasons with 4,000 passing yards, Newton ranked tied for 164th in attempts. Of those with 4,000 passing yards on fewer attempts, 17 of the 22 made the Pro Bowl, four were first-team All-Pro, and three won MVP. Newton has averaged 509 pass attempts per 16 games, and only the best of the best can squeeze 4,000 yards out of 509 attempts.

Why did Newton have such unfavorable conditions? He was contributing an average of 121 rushing attempts per 16 games in his first eight seasons. If he averaged two extra throws per week, he likely has three 4,000-yard seasons.

From 2011 to 2018, the Panthers ranked in the top three of rush attempts, yards, yards per carry, and touchdowns. They were also a usual playoff team. Had Newton been on a worse team, his stats would look better.

The counterargument to the aforementioned game script is that Carolina knew Newton was not reliable enough to throw the ball 550 or 600 times a season. Carolina actively chose a less efficient option because of Newton’s insufficiencies as a quarterback. This is a valid criticism of Newton, but it does not fully wash away the above points. Newton had to overcome a run-centric game script because the Panthers were generally good. Was the game script slightly exaggerated to cover up Newton? Perhaps.

Injury Prone:

Through eight seasons, Newton had as many seasons with 16 games played as total missed games (five). While he missed 14 of 16 games in 2019, this is a case of injury timing costing more of the season than if it had come at the end of the season. Newton has had difficult surgeries to recover from in recent years, so the Superman Cam of years past may be gone, but he is not currently injury prone.

If he gets injured in 2020, the injury-prone discussion can open back up, but he has missed significant time once in nine years.

Verdict:

Newton occupies a weird position in the NFL hierarchy. He is not elite, and he likely was not a top-five quarterback in any season besides 2015. In 2020, Newton should be the starter in New England (barring injury), but what should fans expect? If 2018 is anything to go off, he should be an above average option for the Patriots. All things considered, above-average should put the Patriots in the thick of the AFC playoff race. His weapons may be subpar, but the Patriots still have a strong defense. Newton may be playing January football for the fifth time of his career.


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