Cam Newton didn't struggle as expected in 2012 -- at least not in the way a lot of football fans had hoped. Yes, they hoped Newton would flounder, because it would justify their disdain for a player who doesn't speak softly and carry a big stick, but rather beat you with it, stand over you, and then mock you for getting in his way. Quarterbacks aren't supposed to have bravado, but here we are in 2013. The stats, the wins and losses -- all are easy to judge against his peers, and so I set out to look at the first two years of Newton's career and compare it to NFL's past.
Walking in with no preconceptions, I wasn't sure whether we'd find out if Newton was more like Dan Marino or Tim Couch. Using Pro Football Reference's season finder tool, I used a variety of criteria to narrow down the search. Statistics can be very misleading. Obviously the game has changed in the last twenty years, and it's easier than ever for quarterbacks to find their receivers due to pass-friendly rules. However, it's still interesting to see how players stack up following their first two seasons.
The player Cam Newton most closely resembles statistically is Jim Kelly
It gives pause, and shows how dangerous it can be to make sweeping generalizations about players so early in their careers. The idea that Kelly would be slammed for 'not being a winner', or 'padding his stats' is hilarious today. He finished with a record of 101-59, a Hall of Fame career -- all while becoming one of the game's most beloved stars. It's amazing what being personable can do for public perception.
Granted, Kelly played in an era where receivers could be man-handled at the line of scrimmage, and the game wasn't built around the pass as it is today -- but isn't an almost 1,600 yard buffer in passing yards more than enough to make up for the disparity?
The knocks on Newton are his accuracy, his low TD/INT ratio, and most importantly his lack of wins. All things that Kelly showed over those first two seasons in the league. The Buffalo Bills were able to turn around their fortunes quickly, posting four ten-win seasons in their next five years. Erasing the idea that Kelly 'wasn't a winner' they surrounded him with talent, and despite Kelly not seeing huge statistical jumps over this time, they still found ways to win.
It's important to note that this comparison is purely based on Newton and Kelly as passers, and fails to account for Cam's ability to add more utility in the running game. Choosing to omit these numbers is far more interesting, because it takes out a large part of his game, and distills it into one thing -- how he plays as a traditional quarterback.
It remains to be seen whether the Carolina Panthers can take the same strides as a team that Buffalo did from 1988 onwards, but they have someone at the helm who knew Kelly's early career well. During this time Dave Gettleman was a fresh-faced BLESTO scout in Buffalo, responsible for evaluating junior prospects. Perhaps he's the best one to ask whether Newton 'not being a winner' concerns him after two seasons.