Despite his Carolina Panthers dismal record of 2-6, rookie Cam Newton has proved his doubters wrong to rise as one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL this season.
As one of the most scrutinized No. 1 overall picks in NFL draft history, in eight weeks, the Heisman Trophy winner silenced his critics coming out of Auburn to become one of the league’s most promising young superstars. There were plenty of ideas about why the 6’5” 245-pound quarterback wouldn’t succeed at the highest level: he lacked the intellect, he was more an athlete than a QB, he wouldn’t be able to take snaps under a center after taking snaps in the shotgun formation in college, his passing wasn’t accurate, and he ego trips –Newton was quoted in Sports Illustrated in February stating “I see myself not only as a football player but as an entertainer and an icon.” Through no offseason workouts, no contract with his coaches pre-training camp, an injury-weakened defense, the rookie has impressively debunked all criticism and far exceeded all his cynics’ expectations.
He threw for 422 yards in his first start, 432 in his second and then tied Vince Young‘s record for rushing touchdowns by a rookie (seven) in his seventh appearance against the Washington Redskins. Despite two three-interception games, he still ranks fourth in the league in passing yards -behind Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady- while completing 60 percent of his passes for 15 TDs and nine interceptions. The rising supernova has also rushed for 266 yards. Newton performance has been so extraordinary it’s easy to forget how many experts doubted his potential. Those same experts are now in awe at how fast the 22-year-old has developed into an elite quarterback.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, Total QBR is a quarterback rating that takes into account all of a quarterback’s contributions (passing, rushing, sacks, fumbles, penalties) to his team’s scoring and winning and summarizes them into one number on a 0-100 scale, on which 50 is average. For a season, a Total QBR of 65 or better is roughly Pro Bowl level, and a rating of 75-plus is MVP level. In Week 8, in a matchup of rookie quarterbacks, Newton and the Panthers lost to fellow rookie QB Christian Ponder and the Minnesota Vikings, 24-21. As he’s done all season, Newton excelled despite his squad’s sixth loss. His performance on Sunday was better than New Orleans superstar Drew Brees, finishing ahead of the veteran QB with a 67.9 Total QBR, which ranked No. 8 among NFL quarterbacks who played last week. The rookie’s 59.0 Total QBR is ranked No. 13 on the season.
It is rare to find a quarterback who is able to make the transition from executing a wild cat offense in college to now becoming a prolific passer with the capabilities of running the football. ESPN analyst Skip Bayless, who predicted Newton would go No. 1 in the draft, but didn’t think he would excel in his first year, now believes the stellar QB is on pace to be named to the Pro Bowl this season. And many would agree.
The Panthers, who threw for just nine touchdowns last season, thanks to Newton, have nearly doubled their scores in the first-half of this season. But despite his rapid development into a premiere NFL QB, Newton isn’t fascinated about his individual accolades. “This is a team game,” he told ESPN’s Jeffri Chadiha, when asked to assess his progression. “So it’s not about me or what I do.” No ego there, just the sign of a burgeoning superstar.