NFL

Is Cam Newton An Elite Quarterback?

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Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton came into the NFL with major question marks after being the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 Draft.  

There were questions about his maturity after attending three colleges in as many years, as well as the potential scandal at Auburn where his family may or may not have taken money illegally.

On the field there was concerns about how a quarterback coming from purely a spread offense would be able to translate into the NFL game.  There were issues with mechanics and critics questioned his intelligence and selfishness.  

He was accused of everything from being a criminal to even having a phony smile.  

When it comes to Newton, the “Hot Take Machine” shifts into overdrive.  

Perception is not always reality.  

Newton adjusted to the NFL game pretty well, setting new rookie passing records and throwing for over 400 yards in his first game (also a record).  

By his third season, Newton made the Pro Bowl in a quarterback-loaded NFC and led his team to a 12-4 record and an NFC South title.  Last season he led the Panthers to a second-consecutive division title and capped it with a playoff victory.  

It’s time to start recognizing what Cam Newton is and stop talking about what he’s not.  

With all apologies to a pre-prison sentence Michael Vick, Newton is the greatest athlete to ever play the quarterback position.  He can throw the ball more than 60 yards with a flick of his wrist and nothing else.  He can run away from defensive backs and linebackers and also run through them.  He changes plays at the line of scrimmage and is the emotional leader of his football team, regardless of how his smile and celebration after touchdowns is perceived.

“He’s a special player and the big thing about Cam (Newton) is that he’s grown up so much each and every year and he’s really become that quarterback that you want in a franchise guy,” Panthers center Ryan Kalil told Football Insiders.

In a league with guys that are mobile, nobody’s mobility is feared more than Newton’s.  In a league with strong-armed quarterbacks, no arm is stronger either.

“He does well in the pocket and he’s a good passer but when things break down or when they have really good coverage he can do a good job extending plays,” Kalil explained.  “It gives you a lot of confidence, especially in long third down plays.”

To get a true read on how valuable Newton is, all you have to do is peruse the rest of the Carolina roster.  The currently undefeated Panthers are starting Ted Ginn and Jerricho Cotchery at wide receiver now that Kelvin Benjamin was lost for the season in training camp.

“You’re never happy when you lose a No. 1 receiver,” Panthers quarterback Joe Webb said. “Kelvin’s (Benjamin) is a great player and he’ll be truly missed, but when one goes down someone else has to step up.”

What Newton has made a career out of doing is something that you really can’t game plan for.  He keeps plays alive with his feet and there really is no true spy for him because of his physicality and athleticism.

“It means a lot,” Webb said of his scrambling ability. “In this league, a lot of the big plays come from scrambling.  You see a lot of the quarterbacks scramble and they look down field and it’s a big play.  You can do that from time to time if plays break down and that’s a big plus.”

At times it may look like playground football, but Newton would be the guy you would pick first for your team.  At 6-foot-6 and 250 pounds (allegedly), he runs like a gazelle in the open field and like a fullback when his team needs the extra yard.  

Give Mike Shula and the rest of the Panthers coaching staff a lot of credit for constructing an offense that plays to his numerous strengths.  

“He’s been doing it for years, he’s been doing it his entire college career and they’ve translated it and he’s been doing a great job with it and he’s comfortable in the system,” Webb, a former spread quarterback in college said of Newton.

It’s assumed that the read option is a college offense which makes it “easier” to run.  That’s another perception that isn’t really reality.

“It actually makes it harder because in a specific run play you have leverage, inside or outside, you know where the play is supposed to go,” Kalil explained.  “On the read stuff, you don’t know if he’s going to give it, keep it, pull it, pitch it; A lot of times you have to go down and really stay on your blocks because you don’t know which way he’s going.”

As confusing as it can be for the offensive line, imagine how much a defense has to stay at home because of the threat of Newton running.  

“It’s tough offensively to block, but it’s tough defensively to cover,” said Kalil.  “Sometimes you get defenses that guess and then we can break it for big plays.”

Newton is playing with arguably the worst offensive talent at the skill positions in the NFL, a rebuilt offensive line devoid of a star and most NFL fans wouldn’t be able to name three players on their defense.  He routinely elevates the play of his entire team and head coach, and everyone in the Panthers locker room believes they can win any game.  

That is the definition of a franchise quarterback, regardless of how authentic his smile is.  


About Charlie Bernstein

Charlie Bernstein

Charlie Bernstein is the managing football editor for Football Insiders and has covered the NFL for over a decade.  Charlie has hosted drive time radio for NBC and ESPN affiliates in different markets around the country, along with being an NFL correspondent for ESPN Radio and WFAN.  He has been featured on the NFL Network as well as Sirius/XM NFL Radio and has been published on Fox Sports, Sports Illustrated, ESPN as well as numerous other publications.