Insiders

NFL AM: Players Pick Cam Newton As NFL’s Best

on

It was no secret after a monumental 2015 season that Cam Newton’s star had risen across the NFL. On Wednesday, his peers confirmed as much, selecting him as the league’s top player to complete NFL Network’s Top 100 for 2016.

Newton was the league’s most valuable player in 2015 after putting up sterling numbers that included 3,837 yards passing and a career-high 35 TD passes. He also ran for 10 touchdowns, making him the first player in NFL history with 30 or more passing touchdowns and 10 or more rushing touchdowns in the same season. The Carolina quarterback led the Panthers on a 15-1 ride through the regular season and then deep into the playoffs before their momentum stalled in a Super Bowl 50 loss to the Denver Broncos.

But as much as the NFL Network’s Top 100 is based in previous performance, the player-driven special is also designed and polled to pick who will be the best player in the league for the coming season. And the players believe, by picking him for the top spot, that Newton won’t experience a Super Bowl hangover.

“Cam Newton is a player I think is so, so fun to watch,” Bears guard Kyle Long said. “If we have a Noon game and I get home and they’re playing on Sunday night, I can’t wait to watch Cam Newton go to work.”

So after setting the league ablaze, racking up gaudy numbers and leading his team to the cusp of ultimate success, what exactly can Cam do for an encore in 2016?

The most obvious answer to that question is getting his team over the hump and leading them to a championship. But that’s a team-driven goal that Newton only has so much control over. What can Cam do to make sure he continues playing at an elite level this coming season?

“What Cam has really got to do is continue to grow,” Carolina coach Ron Rivera said in May. “He’s such a dynamic football player athletically and mentally that every time he gets out there he can improve and become better.”

First and foremost, he must continue to trust the offense. One of the reasons the Panthers, and by virtue Newton, had so much success last season was they finally found a rhythm in their offense under offensive coordinator Mike Shula. The team had an effective balance between run and pass and Newton was never asked to do too much, although he did plenty.

Carolina will be trotting out an almost identical unit on offense in 2016, led by Newton, running back Jonathan Stewart and tight end Greg Olsen. But they’re also bringing back a key piece in wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin, who missed all of last season due to injury. Adding another weapon to his repertoire could make Newton an even better passer in 2016.

Newton must also make sure he doesn’t try to force too many things in his handling of the football and limits his mistakes. Last season, he threw just 10 interceptions and fumbled the ball just five times. That followed a 2014 season in which he through 12 interceptions and fumbled 12 times. Like any quarterback, a big part of Newton’s job is to keep mistakes and miscues to a minimum. The Panthers quarterback has steadily gotten better at that as a passer over the years, as his interceptions have dropped from 17 as a rookie, gradually down to last season’s career-low.

But it wasn’t until last season that Newton really got better at protecting the ball on runs and handoffs. The 2014 season was one of two that he’s experienced double digit fumbles, and they’ve both come in even years, so the Carolina signal caller must make sure he consistently takes care of the football in 2016, as he did last season, for his team to have as much success.

One other area Newton has shown room for improvement is in accuracy. His 59.7 percent completion percentage last season was the third time in five seasons he’s checked in below 60 percent completions. He was one of only a handful of full time starters last season to post a completion percentage below 60 percent.

“Last year we talked about developing certain throws and he did that. Can he develop and get better physically? Yeah. His skill set can continue to get better,” Rivera said. “They’re constantly working on his technique, his footwork, his delivery … and then again work on the mental aspect as well. I’m not putting anybody on blast. I’m just challenging him that he can become a better football player.”

If Newton can become more accurate, and the return of his top target in Kelvin Benjamin may provide an assist, it’s possible that he could not only maintain his status as the league’s best, but post even better numbers in 2016. That’s a scary thought for defenses across the league.

“When he first got into the NFL, everybody looked at him and said ‘If this guy figures it out, we’re all in trouble.’ And he’s figured it out,” Colts punter Pat McAfee said.

What’s next for Newton will depend a lot on Newton. The way last season ended, in the Super Bowl, and all the criticism he took in the aftermath, must have left a poor taste in his mouth. At just 27 years old and five seasons into his NFL career, there is still room for him to grow, learn and improve. If he can continue to apply the lessons he’s already learned and consistently do those things well, and keep adapting as well, the best may well be yet to come.


About Devon Jeffreys

Devon Jeffreys