It took almost eight years, y’all, but Cam Newton has finally become a good quarterback. The former first round pick turned in a performance for the ages against the Dallas Cowboys and has pulled his season average completion percentage up to 65%. As we all know, completing 65% of your passes on average is the absolute benchmark for good quarterbacking. It’s a black and white standard.
I assume that is the story of the season. I assume that everybody who spent years claiming that Newton was overrated during his 2015 NFL MVP season, who was clamoring for Derek Anderson to start, and who has, for months, been trying to buy passage on the Taylor Heinicke bandwagon has now been quieted. That their support has been thrown unequivocally behind Cameron Jerrell Newton, efficient passer of the football, as the quarterback of the Carolina Panthers for now and hereafter.
Never we mind that Newton has averaged almost 40 yards a game on the ground. Never we mind that those yards often came on critical third and fourth down opportunities. Those yards and those plays aren’t valuable when produced by a quarterback and neither are the 55 touchdowns he has rushed for since entering the league.
The Panthers stuck by their first overall pick for longer than many franchises would have. His ascendancy to being a good and relevant quarterback in his eighth season qualifies him as a late bloomer. Other first overall picks didn’t receive as much as time as Newton has to prove that they were good quarterbacks. Alex Smith only received seven seasons in San Francisco, which is mathematically less than Newton’s eight. David Carr, meanwhile, was released after four seasons by the Houston Texans.
Ironically, both of those quarterbacks became good in their last seasons with their original teams. They posted 70% and 68.9% completion ratings respectively. Maybe that is the sign that this is Newton’s final year. Maybe the Panthers are just letting Derek Anderson rest for a season so that he can take the league by storm in 2019.
It will be a tough call for general manager Marty Hurney, to be sure. On the one hand, Newton is now a good quarterback. On the other hand, the Panthers probably have a better chance of making the Super Bowl without him. It’s not like he ever proved capable of carrying their entire offense — kicking and screaming — through the playoffs all by himself.
As for 2018, Newton will probably try to maintain his performance as a good quarterback. He can do that if he keeps his season average completion percentage above 65%, I’m told. That will probably mean he has to stop running so gosh darn much. Smiling, too. That’s OK, though. The Panthers have never been hurt by leaving a few first downs on the table, letting drives stall out, and not scoring in the red zone.