It's hard for Panthers fans to hear Cam Newton referred to as a "tier two quarterback." If two Pro Bowl appearances and a rookie of the year trophy are the trappings of a second-tier player, what the heck does it take to hit the top? Regardless of what you think about stratifying quarterbacks a new article from ESPN highlights the players ready to make a jump and the logic is sound.
Mike Sando has a fairly high barrier to becoming a top-tier player, one has to be top-five. To this end there probably aren't too many fans who would argue Newton belongs that high, but when you mention that Andrew Luck cracked the list that mood probably changes. Here's what he learned from a few offensive coaches:
What he has already: Rare physical ability in every area
Biggest question areas: Offensive system/weapons, and offensive pedigree
There is no questioning Newton's physical ability. Some said that ability alone makes Newton a candidate to achieve Tier 1 status. That was not a majority opinion, however.
"I think he is forever a two at the best," one offensive coach said. "He is coming from so far back. He was at Florida a bit, at the JC a bit, then Auburn. There just hasn't been a basis for a football IQ at the level of Rivers and Brees and those guys, and I do not think Carolina is pushing him that way with their scheme. They are going to play what is called, they have a QB-involved run game where he does not audible out of plays because there are too many guys in the box. Is that because of them or him?"
Newton has come closer than Wilson to reaching the per-game averages Tier 1 QBs have shown in dropbacks, pass attempts and passing yardage. Those statistics say nothing about how well a QB is playing, but they do provide a gauge for how much of the load the QB is carrying. If you're a Tier 1 QB, your coaches will want to run the offense through you. Those figures for Newton dropped some last season as Carolina improved significantly on defense.
"You have to throw to win unless you have an extreme situation like San Francisco, Carolina and Seattle," the offensive coach said. "When you get a QB who can do Rivers-type stuff mentally, the whole world opens up to you. If you have a Newton or Kaepernick, it opens up other things. But if you have to throw to win, which you have to do if you do not have a top-10 defense, then it matters to coaches. You can win with those other guys, but you have to play a particular style."
So, can Newton reach Tier 1? "He has the potential, just based on the fact that he has an NFL passer's skill set and has flashed the ability to beat you from the pocket," a GM said.
It's a well written piece, but these quotes make me shudder. They continue to perpetuate this idea (that's obviously widespread in the league) that Newton doesn't have the mental makeup to be a top-tier player. Pair that with a thinly veiled insult comparing Philip Rivers' brain with Newton and Colin Kaepernick's body and the whole thing is a turnoff.
The offensive coach Sando spoke to obviously doesn't like Newton or athletic quarterbacks. This notion that a player is locked into a tier is problematic for numerous reasons, the least of which being that it assumes there's a tier. It's interesting to see that an NFL general manager seems to have more faith in Newton than the offensive coach, honestly that's reassuring.
Criticism of Newton will be a way of life while he's a member of this team. You can either get bent out of shape or wait for him to prove people wrong, sadly that wont come until the Panthers make a deep playoff run -- but I believe.