Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton was ranked #1 on the Top 100 Players of 2016 list. He was coming off a First Team All Pro and MVP season where he led his team to a Super Bowl berth. Newton wasn’t a bad choice for “player you’d most want to build your franchise around” after 2015.
But now that praise for Newton seems like the distant past. He completed just 52.9% of his passes in 2016, throwing for just 19 touchdowns against 14 interceptions. His passer rating of 75.8 ranked 28th in the league, ahead of only Brock Osweiler and Ryan Fitzpatrick, both of whom are now back-ups.
Those struggles have continued into 2017 where his passer rating of 69.7 ranks 29th, and an easy question is why?!
The 2015 Panthers suffered a long string of injuries at receiver as Ted Ginn served as #1 wideout, with Greg Olsen in the middle. Newton definitely put the team on his back and rushed for 636 yards and 10 touchdowns to supplement his 35 passing touchdowns.
But in 2016, Newton had Olsen and Ginn again to go with their real #1 receiver Kelvin Benjamin and second-year receiver Devin Funchess. Newton played at a much lower level and rushed for just 359 yards and 5 touchdowns as he battled a shoulder injury that required offseason surgery.
And now Newton is still dealing with the shoulder injury, along with an ankle injury, and he will be missing Greg Olsen and potentially Kelvin Benjamin. But more importantly, he’s simply making bad football decisions.
Football Perspective’s Chase Stuart looked at Newton’s career trajectory over 16-game segments to examine how his past season’s worth of games compares to other parts of Newton’s career.
And over the past 16 games, Newton has completed just 54% of his passes to go with 16 touchdown passes and 16 interceptions. His adjusted net yards per attempt is 4.97 over that span, which is a fancy way of saying he’s been negligibly different as a passer from Mark Sanchez or EJ Manuel or Brock Osweiler.
Part of the magic with Cam Newton has been his value as a runner, though, and from 2011-15 he averaged 641 rushing yards and 9 rushing touchdowns per season. He’s now on pace for 245 rushing yards and 5 rushing touchdowns, far below his career average. Stuart notes that over the past 16 games, Newton’s been the least productive and efficient runner of his career.
And the fact is that Newton was never a transcendent passer outside of his 2015 season, but his running ability always elevated his contributions and made him a special player. Remove the running and the Panthers are left with a below-average quarterback (possibly due to injury).
Maybe the 32nd ranked Patriots defense is the cure for Newton that the then-32nd ranked Saints defense couldn’t provide. But one thing is for certain: Cam Newton has not been the same Superman that put the Panthers offense on his back and carried them to a #1 ranked offense and to the Super Bowl in 2015.