What can we expect from Cam Newton's 3rd year?

Grant Halverson

Nursing a hangover on a depressingly cold June afternoon in jolly old Blighty, with the fading remnants of ‘Hey Macarena’ ringing in my ears as a horrifying reminder of last night's undignified antics, I’ve found it impossible to do any work. Instead I have been daydreaming at my desk about the 2013 Carolina Panthers. No wonder why the economy’s in such an appalling state.

In order to try to predict how Cam Newton would do this season, I decided to look at teams over the past decade with starting quarterbacks going into their third year. Furthermore, I chose teams who had just drafted in the Panthers range (11-20) going into their QB’s third year. These specific rules weren’t laid out arbitrarily. The idea was to try and view past performance of QBs in similar circumstances to our own in order to extrapolate information which could help predict Cam’s forthcoming season. These were quarterbacks with comparable experience, plying their trade on middling, non-playoff teams. Of course, there are many different variables that must be taken into account - this is by no means a perfect science - but we’ll discuss them later. It’s not the greatest sample size in the world, but it’s a start. Winston Churchill said ‘there are lies, damned lies and statistics’, but he was sloshed 99% of the time so what does he know. Anyway I digress. Found below are the third year statistics of the QBs who met the aforementioned criteria:

Player Team Year Pass Yds Comp % TD Int QBR
Matthew Stafford DET 2011 5038 63.5 41 16 97.2
Josh Freeman TB 2011 3592 62.8 16 22 74.6
Matt Ryan ATL 2010 3705 62.5 28 9 91.0
Jay Cutler DEN 2008 4526 62.3 25 18 86.0
Tarvaris Jackson MIN 2008 1056 59.1 9 2 95.4
Alex Smith SF 2007 914 48.7 2 4 57.2
Phillip Rivers SD 2006 3388 61.7 22 9 92.0

Mr Third Year’s stats averaged out:

Player Pass Yds Comp % TD Int QBR
Mr. Third Year 3174 60 20 11 84.7

Tarvaris Jackson is the major anomaly here. He was dropped after a woeful performance in Minnesota’s season opener, and only resumed his starting duties later on in the season when all had been lost. If we exclude him then this is how Mr Third Year would stack up:

Player Pass Yds Comp % TD Int QBR
Mr. Third Year 3527 60.3 22 13 83.0

Alex Smith clearly brings down the average, but there were mitigating circumstances for him. Smith only started seven games in a season that begun with his third offensive coordinator in as many years and was ultimately hampered by injury. Let’s put it down to it being his annus horribilis. Now let’s look at Cam, whose 2012 stats are as follows:

Player Pass Yds Comp % TD Int QBR
Cam Newton 3869 57.7 19 12 86.2

If he were to achieve the average laid out above it would perhaps be viewed as a slight regression, yet this is without even considering the rushing threat he provides which the other players lack. Cam Newton rushed for 700+ yards with a combined 22 TDs in his first two seasons. Josh Freeman’s season high is closest at 364 yards (0 TDs), which he has since come nowhere near to replicating. Cam’s dual-threat ability is a bonus none of the other QBs on this list possess.

Looking at the data, Mr Third Year performed slightly below Cam Newton did in his second year, and doesn’t possess his rushing ability. For me this makes it more likely that Cam Newton will have a season similar to the two Matts than Freeman or Smith.

Now, looking at the data individually, Matthew Stafford’s stat line is perhaps the most pertinent to our cause. In fact, the parallels between our present situation and the 2011 Detroit Lions is rather eerie. The 2010 Lions were coming off a 6-10 season not too dissimilar to our 7-9 2012 season - they even mirrored our own finish down the stretch by winning their last four games. Schwartz stated that this strong finish had a huge impact on the following season for the Lions, as they went into 2011 on a winning streak which lent credence to their growing self-belief. In 2011 Jim Schwartz was in the third year of his first Head Coaching gig, where previously he had been a Defensive Coordinator. Like us, the Lions drafted a DT in the first round to aid in the building of a dominant defensive line, in order to mask the deficiencies of their secondary. You're travelling through another dimension- Sorry, I must have blacked out for a minute there.

The third year QB Stafford led the Lions to the play-offs after a record setting season, culminating in his election to the pro bowl. This came on the back of shoulder surgery, which was in large part down to questionable O-Line play the previous year. Outside of Megatron, Stafford’s supporting cast is rather unheralded. Newton and Stafford are both gunslinging vertical passers who went (or will go) into their third year with losing records and something to prove. Now this outcome would be the dream scenario for us Panthers fans, and perhaps my subconscious is trying to find a connection when really there isn’t one. So I’ll try to balance out the good, with some bad and ugly.

A Josh Freeman-like regression is perhaps the biggest worry amongst Panthers fans on here. Mike Shula is rather an unknown quantity given his 14 year absence from the Offensive Coordinator position. If we’re going to strain the comparison even further, then like the 2013 Panthers, the Buccaneers draft consisted of double-dipping on defensive line in Freeman’s third year, and it was a disaster. They had the worst defence in the league which didn’t aid Freeman’s cause. Their secondary got lit up so often that crowds started to lift them up during rock concerts, with Steven Tyler being heard to exclaim ‘Put your Ronde Barbers up!’ during one particularly jaunty rendition of ‘Dream On’. Raheem Morris was also a third year Head Coach, and it’s evident he lost the team from what I saw of them, becoming a lame duck coach during a ten game losing streak. Ron Rivera could fall into this trap, though unlike the Buccaneers he doesn't coach the youngest side in the league, and lack of motivation hasn't stopped the Panthers from finishing strongly these past two years.

All data was compiled by

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