Cris Carter said that Cam Newton was nothing more than an average quarterback last week on his show “First Things First.” He cited a few statistics in making his case, and said it’s time to stop making excuses for the seven-year vet’s shortcomings.
When I first heard this, it sounded kind of ridiculous. It was the kind of hot take you’d expect from an FS1 host. Newton is a former MVP, one of the most handsomely endorsed athletes in the country and has taken the Panthers to the playoffs in four of the last five years—including a trip to Super Bowl 50. That seems more than average to the average fan.
But when looking past the hype and the endorsements and focusing on the numbers, it’s pretty clear Newton is far less of a star than you might think. In fact, he’s not really a star at all. Based on many metrics and categories, Carter is right: Cam is nothing more than an average NFL quarterback.
Just another hot-takes guy looking for clicks with an absurd opinion, right?
Okay, maybe this take is a little hot. But it’s only hot because it’s true. Consider these numbers before hitting that “X” on the corner of your screen:
This season, Newton was 18th in passing yards, 22nd in yards per attempt, and 28th in completion percentage. Trevor Siemian, Jacoby Brissett, C.J. Bethard, and DeShone Kizer were the only four quarterbacks less accurate than Newton this year.
Turnovers are also an issue for Cam. He was second to only DeShone Kizer in interceptions thrown, and has the fourth-highest interception percentage in the NFL. Only Kizer, Siemian, and Brett Hundley had a higher percentage of their throws go for INT’s than Newton.
These are not names you want to be on a list with, to say the least.
Most of Newton’s numbers this year are pretty much in line with his career stats: His lifetime completion percentage of 58.5 also doesn’t instill confidence in his ability to make precision throws. He’s completed 60 percent of his throws just twice since entering the league. Newton has finished top 10 in Total QBR just once (2014) and finished as low as 25th last season—when he was beat out by Brock Osweiler, among several scrubs. Newton’s Total QBR of 48.0—which includes rushing stats—was 19th in the NFL this year, lower than Blake Bortles, Marcus Mariota, and Josh McCown.
Now, Newton defenders may admit that while Cam isn’t the best passer, he more than makes up for it in his dual-threat prowess. This is not without merit; Newton rushed for a career-high 754 yards this season. He also had the fourth-most expected points added through rushes among QBs this year. This part of Cam’s game can obviously not be discounted.
The Panthers were 19th in total offense this season—which is exactly where they ranked last season. They were 28th in passing and fourth in rushing this year. Under Newton, the Panthers have been a top 10 offensive team just once: When Cam was a rookie in 2011. That was one of just three occasions the Panthers finished in the top half of the league in total offense.
I’ll repeat that one more time for the people in the back: The Panthers have been in the bottom half of the league offensively four times in Newton’s seven seasons. And people still think he’s an elite quarterback.
Newton may be the face of the franchise, but it’s the defense that has turned the Panthers into a perennial NFC powerhouse. Carolina’s D has finished top 10 in yards allowed in four of the past five seasons, including a seventh-place finish this season. They made the playoffs in each of those four seasons. If Alex Smith were the Panthers’ QB, it’s hard to imagine them doing much worse.
Intangibles and leadership are two additional areas where Newton appears to fall short. As someone who’s not around the Panthers on a day-to-day basis, it’s virtually impossible to gauge the locker-room impact Newton has. Perhaps it is a positive one.
2015 stands as a statistical outlier for Newton. Seven years into his career, he has largely been unable to capitalize on his potential and hype. Maybe he still can.
But as far as optics go, Newton doesn’t always project the image of a strong locker-room leader. His post Super Bowl press conference conveyed a lack of professionalism and maturity, as did his sexist comments directed at a female reporter this season. Maybe Newton is a better leader than any of us realize, but one thing’s for sure: You don’t see Russell Wilson or Tom Brady mocking women publicly asking a football question.
Cam Newton will go down as one of the most physically-gifted quarterbacks to ever play. He has elite arm strength, and is bigger and faster than many running backs. That’s a rare combination of skills for a quarterback, and these skills show no sign of diminishing any time soon.
Unfortunately for Newton, he has largely been unable to translate this talent to his on-field performance. It looked like he had turned a corner during his MVP 2015 season, when he truly played like a star for the first time. But he hasn’t replicated that success since then.
2015 stands as a statistical outlier for Newton. Seven years into his career, he has largely been unable to capitalize on his potential and hype. Maybe he still can. The league would certainly be more exciting if 2015 Cam made a permanent return. But until this happens, Cam Newton will have to be considered an average NFL quarterback.
So thank you, Cris Carter, for bringing this truth to the world’s attention.