32 for 32: Cam Newton is an Excellent Early-Round QB Target
Panthers quarterback Cam Newton has finished as a fantasy QB4 or higher in five out of seven seasons up to this point of his career.
Newton played college football at Auburn and was drafted first overall in the 2011 NFL Draft by the Panthers. Did you know he is the only player in the modern era to win the Heisman Trophy, lead his team to a National Championship win, and be selected first overall in the NFL Draft within a one-year span? Newton broke out his rookie season, being named the 2011 NFL Rookie Year of the Year and finishing as the fantasy QB3. The three-time Pro Bowler and 2015 NFL Most Valuable Player has been very consistent for fantasy owners over the seasons.
Newton continues to leverage his athleticism to produce elite numbers, but his game has not evolved to become an elite passer. What impact will the Panthers’ upgrades at the running back and wide receiver position have on his fantasy outlook? Can Newton thrive with new Panthers offensive coordinator Norv Turner? His current average draft position (ADP) of QB6 for 2QB redraft leagues suggests drafters believe he can. We will discuss that and more as I provide you a line of sight of Newton’s fantasy outlook in 2018.
NEWTON’S STATISTICAL BODY OF WORK
Newton continues to be inaccurate, has yet to surpass his passing yards per game totals from his rookie season, and has historically low passing fantasy points over expectation. He has periods during the season where his play is hot and cold. One week Newton could throw for 300 passing yards and the next he could have an atrocious passer rating.
Newton has struggled mightily as a passer since his league MVP winning season back in 2015. He finished that season with a career-high quarterback rating of 99.4. It was followed by a QBR of 75.8 in 2016 and 80.7 in 2017. A significant percentage of his fantasy output comes from his rushing yards and touchdowns. Newton’s dual-threat ability is his greatest asset, but could become his undoing as he enters his age-29 season.
Did you know that Newton led all QBs in rushing yards (754) and touchdowns (6) in 2017? The only other QB with more rushing attempts and rushing yards on third down last season was Tyrod Taylor. Newton was the Panthers’ leading rusher and averaged more yards per carry than Jonathan Stewart (3.4) or Christian McCaffrey (3.7). How long can Newton’s body withstand the physical punishment of this number of rushing attempts entering the 2018 season? Sports Injury Predictor considers him a medium-risk heading into this season. Will Newton’s style of play change with Turner now in town?
THE TURNER EFFECT
One of Turner’s priorities should be to limit the peaks and valleys of Newton’s production as a passer. He didn’t coach last season, but Turner is known for building great relationships with other coaches and players, including former Cowboy and Hall of Famer Troy Aikman and Philip Rivers.
The irony is that the Panthers have already implemented concepts from Turner’s offense. There will not be a change in terminology that the players have to learn. Former Panthers offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski was with the team from 2011 to 2012, but was previously on the Chargers staff from 2009 to 2010 with Turner. Mike Shula, who was the Panthers’ OC from 2012, kept the offensive scheme in place. The great news with having Turner in place is that you have a coach who is the architect of the offensive scheme you have been running for years. Head coach Ron Rivera even has ties to Turner. He was the Chargers’ linebackers coach in 2007 and then the defensive coordinator from 2008 to 2009. Rivera and Turner appear to be aligned offensively with the philosophy of being physical as a running team and attacking opposing defenses vertical via play action passes.
Turner hasn’t been at the helm of a top offense since 2011, though.
None of Turner’s offenses have ranked in the top 15 in total yards or points scored in any of his last five seasons as an OC. The good news is that he will helm an offense with additional weapons at the running back, wide receiver, and tight end positions. Can he place the offense in a position to live up to their potential?
Stewart was released and signed with the New York Giants in free agency. He was replaced by former Broncos RB C.J. Anderson. Christian McCaffrey was useful as a rookie accumulating 1,086 total yards, but failed to meet the expectations of a first-round draft pick.
Devin Funchess returns as the Panthers’ No. 1 receiver after a breakout third season. His target volume was inflated due to the in-season trade of Kelvin Benjamin to the Bills and TE Greg Olsen’s foot injury that sidelined him for nine games. Funchess averaged 7.8 targets in games without them, but only averaged 5.5 once Olsen returned. The Panthers drafted D.J. Moore 24th overall in the 2018 NFL Draft. His presence could negatively impact Funchess’ target volume as the No. 2 receiver.
Torrey Smith was acquired by the Panthers in a trade prior to the NFL Draft. Curtis Samuel is expected to be ready for training camp after suffering a season-ending leg injury Week 10 of the 2017 season. Hamstring injuries also limited his offseason activities. Jarius Wright, who has ties to Turner, was signed back in March and will also compete for the No. 3 receiver spot.
The offensive line is a legitimate concern with the departure of left guard Andrew Norwell, who signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars during free agency. He was the NFL’s best pass blocking guard last season, according to Pro Football Focus. Did you know he did not allow a sack or QB hit all of 2017? Norwell only gave up 13 total pressures all of last season.
The great news is that Newton has legitimate weapons at all of the offensive positions. It remains to be seen how flexible Turner will be scheming plays to Newton’s strengths.
The personnel changes that the Panthers made will give Newton an opportunity to be more efficient and improve as a passer. His 2QB redraft and dynasty ADPs are justified given Newton’s floor as a rusher and ceiling as a passer. I envision Turner’s experience, coaching pedigree, and style will result in Newton taking a step forward as a passer.
ESPN’s Mike Clay has Newton projected to finish as the QB3 and I agree with this projection. He is an excellent player to target if you prefer to draft a QB early.
Do you agree or disagree? What did you find most useful? Please leave a comment below or better yet reach out via Twitter @EricNMoody.