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We sure didn’t see this coming.
We all knew Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton had a lot of talent. He was drafted first overall, wasn’t he? We all knew Newton was capable of putting up huge numbers. In his lone season at Auburn, he was responsible for 51 – 51! – touchdowns, remember?
But nobody thought Newton would this closely resemble his Auburn form this early into his NFL career. For the love of God, he’s only played two games! And what a two games it was. 925 passing yards. Five total touchdowns. Two straight 400-yard passing games – the first rookie QB to ever accomplish the feat. In short, Newton has been outstanding.
The question, for both fantasy football purposes and real football purposes, is, can he remain outstanding? It’s a situation that has no historical context. We’ve never seen a rookie quarterback tear it up like this right away. There’s nothing to compare it to. Sustained success would be unheard of.
Doubters will point to Newton’s four interceptions, or the fact that he’s thrown an incredible 83 passes, and say his numbers lie. “It’s easy to put up crazy stats when you throw all day,” nay-sayers will argue. And they would be right, but there are a number of reasons Newton’s chances for continued, off-the-charts fantasy production look good.
First, Newton has completed nearly 63 percent of his passes, a very solid number for someone so new to the pro game. It’s not like he’s just chucking the ball and occasionally getting lucky. For the most part, Newton has been on target, and when you throw the ball over 40 times a game, that kind of accuracy leads to a lot of completions and a lot of yards.
A big reason for those yards is Steve Smith, a guy the football world had apparently forgotten about entirely. It’s no wonder: in 2009 and 2010, Smith was stuck with a QB conglomerate of a Jake Delhomme who had hit rock bottom, Matt Moore and Jimmy Clausen. If there’s a word to describe that mediocre menagerie, it’s probably “eurgh,” which is actually not a word at all.
But with Newton under center, Smith has exploded out of the gate in 2011. At the end of week two, Smith was on pace for a ridiculous 112 catches, 2,672 yards and 16 touchdowns. Suddenly, fans and experts alike have remembered this is the same guy who posted four straight 1,000 yard seasons from 2005 to 2008.
Smith is the biggest reason why Newton has been so good so quickly. Not many rookie QBs have had immediate access to (when coupled with a decent quarterback) one of the most potent receiving weapons in the league. Newton does, and it shows.
It’s also worth mentioning Newton’s first two games are encouraging considering who he played. He was easily better against the Arizona Cardinals: he completed 64.9 percent of his passes and threw two touchdowns against one interception. Arizona was one of the worst teams against the pass in 2010 and 2011 is no different. Newton’s success, one could argue, was not so far-fetched.
As one would expect, Newton regressed just slightly against the Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers, tossing three picks, but the guy racked up nearly 500 yards of offense and kept his team in the game for 60 minutes – all this against the defending champs!
That bodes well for the rest of the year, because it’s not like Carolina is facing a murderers’ row in 2011. The Panthers draw the likes of Jacksonville, Washington and Minnesota in the coming weeks, not to mention those six combined games they’ll play against New Orleans, Atlanta and Tampa Bay. Not one of those teams ranks in the top half of the league in pass defense. There’s a decent chance I’ve just given you another nine games in which Newton can go off.
Finally, there’s every early indication that Carolina is going to rely heavily on Newton and the pass attack – I mean, heavily. In the Panthers’ first two games, the team has thrown the ball 83 times compared to just 48 rushes. Subtract Newton’s 18 rush attempts from that equation and you’re left with 30 rushing attempts. That’s an incredible usage rate for Newton: the Panthers have directly given the ball to a running back just roughly 23 percent of the time. So 77 percent of the time, Newton is making a play with the ball.
This bears repeating. Almost four out of five plays, the Panthers have told Newton, “Go make a play, kid.” That, ladies and gentlemen, is a lot of opportunity.
Between that insane ratio, Carolina’s schedule and Steve Smith’s resurgence, there are a lot of pieces in place for Newton to continue to ride this wave of fantasy gold. Will there be some rough patches? Yes (notably, week 4 at Chicago and week 11 at Detroit look like tough matchups). Rookie quarterbacks will struggle. It is bound to happen.
But Newton is uniquely situated to produce in a way no rookie quarterback has ever produced. He has an elite receiver, a mostly favorable schedule and commands an offense that you might as well just call “the Cam Newton Experience.”
Oh, and he can run, too, and in the fantasy football world, especially, running quarterbacks tend to score a lot of points.
And Newton might just run right into the record books.