You've heard all the sayings about rookie quarterbacks starting from Day 1 and all of the bad, scary things that are supposed to happen to them, right? Coming into the 2011 season, a rookie quarterback starting from Day 1 would theoretically be at an even bigger disadvantage due to being locked out of working with his team after the Draft. It would be a tall task to ask a rookie to succeed given these difficult circumstances. And yet, it isn't Drew Brees, Philip Rivers, Michael Vick or Aaron Rodgers that sits behind Tom Brady on the NFL's passing yards totem pole. It's a rookie. But, not just any rookie. It happens to be the #1 overall pick and reigning Heisman Trophy winner, Cam Newton.
This just happens to be the latest twist and turn in Cam Newton's roller coaster career. From Florida reserve to junior college transfer to Auburn starting quarterback to likeable kid getting a second chance to Heisman frontrunner to being at the center of a pay for play scandal to symbol for what's wrong with the college game to Heisman winner and national champion to #1 NFL Draft pick and now to the most proficient beginning to a quarterbacking career in NFL history.
It's been a long, strange trip that would make Bill Walton proud, but that's the career path Cam Newton took to this point. Given all of the off-field controversy associated with Newton, it is too easy to overlook his success on the field. The fact that Cam Newton has posted such gaudy passing numbers in the first two games of the season is even more of a surprise considering his development as an NFL passer was supposed to need more time than other top QB prospects. "Potential" and "project" were two words heavily associated with Cam heading into the 2011 Draft.
Conventional wisdom is that it wasn't Newton's arm that won a national championship for Auburn last year. The truth is he was a better passer in college than he often received credit for. Newton was the second highest rated passer in college last year behind Boise's Kellen Moore and had 30 TDs compared to only 7 INTs. And yet, most of us smart folk thought it would certainly take time (aka years plural) for Newton to learn how to effectively run a pro offense and become a Pro Bowl passer. In fairness, it did take some time... he threw a 77 yard touchdown pass to Steve Smith on his third NFL pass.
In case you still don't believe it, here's Newton's numbers the first two games:
Week 1 at Arizona: 24/37, 422 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT, 110.4 QB rating
Week 2 vs Green Bay: 28/46, 432 yards, 1 TD, 3 INTs, 72.0 QB rating
Total: 52/83, 854 yards, 3 TDs, 4 INTs, 89.1 QB rating
The hysteria over Newton's numbers have been at dare I say Farvian levels as everyone rushes to be the first to place him in the Hall of Fame. Indeed, his performances has been the biggest surprise of the 2011 season so far. Carolina has a lot of offensive weapons that will help ease Newton's transition to the NFL game. Steve Smith can still be an All Pro receiver. Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams are both 1,000 yard backs. And, the additions of Jeremy Shockey and Greg Olsen give Cam two of the best pass catching tight ends in the league. Given Newton's track record of success, who could blame these quick triggered football savants for anointing him as a chosen one. He is on pace for 6,832 passing yards in his rookie season after all. And hey, what's stopping him from putting that up over the course of a 15 year career and reaching 102,480 yards. That would put him only 17 miles beyond Brett Favre's current record.
But there's one number worth taking a brief second to examine as well.
As in, the number of wins in Cam Newton's young NFL career.
After Carolina's Week 1 loss to Arizona, my brother and I were having a conversation about the NFL's opening week the following Tuesday morning. He hadn't discovered until Monday night that Carolina had actually lost that game Sunday afternoon against the Cardinals. The media's focus was 100% on Newton's numbers. Same thing with Sunday's game against the Packers. It was a bit strange, I must admit. In a league where everything is about wins and losses, I've never seen an 0-2 starting QB be universally showered with such unending praise. Did it say a lot that Newton threw for 400+ on the World Champs? Heck yeah! Was it encouraging that Carolina didn't get beat by 40 points? Of course! Did he also throw a couple killer interceptions? You bet. Does he still have plenty of room for improvement as an NFL QB? Yes.
The beginning of Cam Newton's career is certainly exciting, and I don't want to be Skip Bayless and pour cold water over his impressive numbers. Cam is going to be a breath of fresh air in this league, and much, much sooner than we all anticipated. Nevertheless, his start and the subsequent media onslaught is also a chance to step back. Cam Newton isn't going to throw for 6,800 yards this season. Breathe that in and out. It's ok. The rookie growing pains will come. More passing yards will come, but more losses will likely come as well. All the praise and adoration from the media and fans may be satisfying. But there will come a time (sooner rather than later in this league) that he'll need to start filling the only column that really counts. Carolina likely wasn't going anywhere this year anyways, but Cam Newton and the Panthers will need to learn how to win games at some point down the road... and not just fantasy trophies.
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