Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton makes a ton of flashy plays and just signed a five-year, $103.8 million contract extension. But is he an elite quarterback in the NFL?
Most would say no. Despite one of the most explosive rookie seasons in NFL history, two straight post-season berths and a playoff victory under his belt, Newton is not considered to be among the top players at his position. Much of that likely has to do with Newton's 30-31-1 regular season record, which mirrors Ryan Tannehill's average mark of 23-25, and his 56.9 Total QBR last season (18th among qualified QBs). But dig a little deeper and you'll see there is more to the story.
ESPN NFL Insider KC Joyner looked into Carolina's offense in 2014 and came to the conclusion that Newton was throwing to one of the worst wide receiving corps in history.
"According to ESPN Stats & Information, Carolina's wide receivers ranked last in the league in yards after contact per reception (1.0), 31st in yards after catch per reception (3.0) and 27th in reception percentage (55.9 percent of the targets thrown their way were converted into receptions).
"My game tracking indicated the Panthers had the highest percentage of pass plays where a coverage defender was credited with having good coverage on the intended receiver (25.9 percent). Some of this obviously depends on if the quarterback decides to throw the ball to a receiver who isn't open, but given how badly these pass-catchers' numbers were last season, a great deal of the fault here has to go to their inability to get open."
Prized rookie WR Kelvin Benjamin didn't fare much better, ranking 78th among wide receivers in yards per attempt (7.8) and vertical yards per attempt (8.1 on throws 11 or more yards downfield).
Despite the lack of help around him, Newton has been steadily improving. He's made significant strides in his decision making and cut down on the interceptions, tying a career low with just 12 last year even the face of all his injuries.
Assuming a small leap for Benjamin, the continued consistency of tight end Greg Olsen, and a decent season for rookie pass-catcher Devin Funchess, Newton could produce an elite type season as soon as this year.
"He has the skills, but he needs good blockers and pass-catchers in order to fully realize his potential," Joyner wrote. "The Panthers have most of those two elements in place, so if they can just get their wide receiving corps to step up to a higher level, Newton will have a chance to prove himself worthy of being in the $100 million quarterback club."
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