Going Deep: Cam Newton, The Return Of Superman

Ben Davidowitz discusses all the reasons to be optimistic that Cam Newton can put back on his cape and fly the Panthers back into the playoffs.

Cam Newton possesses a unique combination of athletic abilities that are rare for the quarterback position. At 6’5″ and near 250 pounds, Newton can beat defenses with his arm or his legs. He is hard to bring down in the pocket and can run over defenders when he takes off.

 

 

Newton was named the 2011 NFL Rookie of the Year, has been nominated to three Pro Bowls, and was the league MVP in 2015. His 58 rushing touchdowns are the most by a quarterback in NFL history–a feat he accomplished in only eight seasons.

Newton enters his ninth NFL season after turning 30 years old and sporting a new, shortened throwing motion after undergoing shoulder surgery at the beginning of the year. He also carries with him a resume of impressive past success along with some concerns. The biggest question regarding Newton is whether he can return to his MVP form or if injuries over the past few years will have taken a toll on his abilities.

There have been times in Newton’s career that he has looked nothing short of unstoppable. During his 2015 MVP season, Newton set an NFL record by throwing for 35 touchdowns and running in another 10. He capped off that season by taking the Panthers to the Super Bowl–after posting a record of 15 and 1–where they lost to the Broncos number one defense. In the following off-season, Newton was voted the number one player in the NFL by his peers.

 

Carolina Panthers Receiving Yards Leaders 2015

 

Player Receptions Yards Touchdowns
Greg Olsen 77 1104 7
Ted Ginn 44 739 10
Jerricho Cotchery 39 485 3
Devin Funchess 31 473 5
Corey Brown 31 447 4

 

The 2016 season was one of Newton’s worst. He had 19 passing touchdowns and 14 interceptions while throwing for 3,509 yards with a 52.9% completion percentage, a career-low. He added 359 yards and five touchdowns on the ground. The Panthers ended the year outside of the playoffs with a 6 – 10 record.

 

Carolina Panthers Receiving Yards Leaders 2016

 

Player Receptions Yards Touchdowns
Greg Olsen 80 1073 3
Kelvin Benjamin 63 941 7
Ted Ginn 54 752 4
Devin Funchess 23 371 4
Corey Brown 27 276 1

 

Newton started the 2017 season after undergoing rotator cuff surgery on his throwing arm during the off-season. He threw for 3,302 yards, 22 touchdowns, and 16 interceptions. Newton added a career-best 754 yards rushing and six touchdowns on the ground but also had a career-high six fumbles. The Panthers record of 11 – 5 was good for the fifth seed in the playoffs and a wildcard birth, where they lost to the New Orleans Saints 31 – 26.

 

Carolina Panthers Receiving Yards Leaders 2017

 

Player Receptions Yards Touchdowns
Devin Funchess 63 840 8
Christian McCaffrey 80 651 5
Kelvin Benjamin 32 475 2
Ed Dickson 30 437 1
Russell Shepard 17 202 1

 

In the 2018 NFL season, the Panthers started red hot. Through Week 9, they had a 6 – 2 record and Newton had thrown 15 touchdowns, four interceptions, and ran in another four scores. The Panthers went on to lose the next seven games in a row while Newton threw for nine touchdowns and nine interceptions. Newton first appeared on the Panthers injury report before the sixth game of the year with a right shoulder injury. He was quickly limited to just one day of throwing in practices. In Week 13, it was apparent that Newton was playing while dealing with an injury when he threw four interceptions and was visibly struggling with his deep passes. In Weeks 14 and 15, Newton’s issues continued while he threw zero touchdowns and two more interceptions. He was subsequently shut down for the final two games of the year before undergoing surgery in January.

 

Carolina Panthers Receiving Yards Leaders 2018

 

Player Receptions Yards Touchdowns
Christian McCaffrey 107 867 6
D.J. Moore 55 788 2
Devin Funchess 44 549 4
Curtis Samuel 39 494 5
Jarius Wright 43 447 1

 

When healthy, Newton has been one of the best overall quarterbacks in the NFL and a fantasy football machine. In 2015, Newton was the number one scoring fantasy quarterback. In 2016, among a rough season, he ended the year the 17th ranked fantasy quarterback. After the 2017 season, Newton had reasserted his fantasy dominance coming in as the second-highest fantasy scoring quarterback in the NFL. He was off to an amazing start in 2018 before his shoulder injury limited his production and ended his season early. In just 14 games, Newton still managed to be the 13th highest scoring quarterback. His running ability will always provide a nice floor to go along with his sky-high ceiling.

Combining his strong performance to start last season and the talent around him, Newton looks to be undervalued entering the current season. Newton’s deep passes have looked particularly impressive during training camp. He has displayed improved accuracy with a quicker release from his shortened throwing mechanics. According to Fantasy Pros, Newton’s current average draft position (ADP) is 89th overall and 10th among quarterbacks.

 

Cam Newton’s NFL Fantasy Scoring and Ranking 2011 – 2018

Year Fantasy Points Quarterback Ranking
2011 370.34 3
2012 323.46 4
2013 297.66 2
2014 248.98 13
2015 389.08 1
2016 254.26 17
2017 299.48 2
2018 282.6 13

(Data from NFL Fantasy)

 

In an eight-season sample size, the worst finish Newton achieved among quarterbacks was 17th. The highest was 1st. He landed in the top five a total of five times and out of the top ten three times. In the 2018 season according to Fantasy.NFL.com, he was the 13th highest scoring fantasy quarterback overall. That includes missing two games and several poor performances while fighting through an injury that took away his ability to throw deep.

Changing our criteria to points per game, Newton becomes the seventh-highest scorer of all quarterbacks with 20.18 points per game. Taking that into consideration, Newton has an amazing potential to outplay his current ADP. If he stays healthy, Newton has a good chance to end the next season as a top-five quarterback.

During the 2018 season, Newton had a career-high 67.9% completion percentage. He also threw the highest amount of passes under ten yards since entering the league. With a repaired and healthy throwing arm and Norv Turner as his offensive coordinator, Newton should get back to throwing deep passes on the regular.

Between March of 2017 and January of 2019, Newton has undergone two surgeries to his throwing shoulder. He has looked healthy throughout camp and is slated to make his preseason debut this Thursday against the Patriots. Doubts will remain until he puts his body through the rigors of playing an entire game and puts his elite arm talent on display.

 

Offensive Firepower 

 

In training camp, Newton has routinely been hooking up with Samuel on deep passes. On the first day of camp, Samuel caught a deep bomb from Newton for a touchdown. Panthers head coach Ron Rivera has said Samuel is “light years ahead” when comparing the third-year wide receiver to last year.

In the 2018 season, Samuel’s was one of a handful of receivers to create at least 6.7 yards of cushion at the line of scrimmage from cornerbacks lined up across from him. He often used his excellent route running to take advantage of defenders when they played close to the line of scrimmage:

 

 

Samuel also proved to be dangerous in the open field and a hard player to bring down:

 

 

The Charlotte Observer just named Samuel it’s offensive camp MVP. Turner recently said that Samuel is “in great condition. He goes through an entire practice and he’s becoming an outstanding route runner,”. After missing all of training camp last season due to an ankle injury he is expected to have a break out year in 2019.

In his rookie season, Moore announced himself as an impact player on his very first NFL catch:

 

 

As last season went on, Newton learned to trust Moore’s ability to go up and snatch a pass:

 

 

Moore has also been a player that has routinely turned heads at camp. Moore will be a major benefactor of the return of Newton’s deep ball. He was named the top standout wide receiver over the second week of Panthers training camp. He has been moving all over the field, showing off his speed on deep routes, and running routes well over the middle of the field.

Add in the return of Greg Olsen from injury and Newton will have one of his favorite targets back in the fold. For three seasons in a row, 2014 through 2016, Olsen caught over 70 passes for over 1,000 receiving yards each season. In the past two years, Olsen has a combined 44 receptions for 482 yards and five touchdowns. If Olsen can show up fully healthy for the 2019 season, he will provide Newton with a security blanket over the middle and another deep threat:

 

 

The Panthers also have one of the most dynamic running backs in the league in Christian McCaffrey:

 

 

A duel threat back, McCaffrey is a dangerous runner and receiver. He is one of the most efficient running backs in the league running north to south, has a nasty cutback move, and the speed to take runs to the edges. McCaffrey was sixth in overall rushing yards last season with 1,098 yards and seven touchdowns. He also led all running backs in receiving yards with 107 catches for 867 yards and another 6 touchdowns.

With all the weapons surrounding Newton, the Panthers should have one of the best offenses in the NFL. Newton might be flying a bit under the radar due to his recent injuries, but he should reward owners with an excellent season.

>