Cam-ocalpyse!, Part the 2nd

Sep 14, 2014; Charlotte, NC, USA; Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) throws a pass during the second quarter against the Detroit Lions at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Some scattered thoughts as we careen toward Super Bowl Sunday and the end of an era, the beginning of an era, all of the above or none of the above.

1)excellent discussion with Trent Dilfer on Mike and Mike today about, among other things, whether we’re likely to see another Cam Newton anytime soon. Dilfer’s answer was “no.” Cam’s physical gifts are hard to replicate – the size, speed, arm and agility are a rare combination. Dilfer also said, in effect, the tape don’t lie. And what the tape tells Dilfer is that Newton is *highly* intelligent, able to read defenses at the line with the t best of ’em, including Peyton, Brady and Rodgers. Dilfer also pointed out that Newton has a gift for spatial relations, part of making very fast decisions with a lot of fast moving objects in front of you. As Dilfer said, Newton doesn’t get enough credit for this part his game (hmm, imagine that), but it’s a big part of the transformation of his game over the past couple of years.

2)the discussion also reminded me that there was a time when everyone was on the lookout for the next Magic. For years after Magic entered the NBA in 1980, it seemed as if every guy over 6′ 8″ who could handle the ball might be the next Magic. But in fact, there was never a next Magic. He remains, to this day, a unique player, in terms of size, skill set and performance, in the history of the league. Sometimes we try too hard to “theorize” about superstardom, but the thing about superstars is that they are sui generis cases – outliers by definition. Best to just enjoy them when they come along.

3)The standard narrative about the arc of Cam’s development is not quite right. Mike Francesa, while criticizing Cam last week for his antics, etc., acknowledged what a great player he’s become. Francesa said that at the start of his career, Newton was an asset with his legs, but a liability as a passer. I think most people kind of assume that, and then regard him as having made a magical leap forward over the past couple of years.

The record suggests otherwise.

Here’s Newton’s QB passer rating and league rank, since he was the No. 1 overall pick in 2011:

2011 84.5/15

2012 86.2/15

2013 88.8/16 (finished ahead of Tom Brady)

2014 82.1/26

2015 99.4/8

Any way you slice it, 2015 was Cam’s best season. But there’s little evidence in his actual performance to indicate he was a liability in his early career as a passer. Indeed, his performance as a QB who started right away stacks up very well against most signal callers, including plenty who have gone on to be all-time greats. Steve Smith was a terrific player, but for the most part, it’s not as if Cam has ever been surrounded by great weapons, either this year or before.  As one quick and dirty indicator of headiness, he’s been substantially less interception prone than $100 million quarterbacks Eli Manning or Jay Cutler have been throughout their careers. He’s even been a bit better in that department than the No. 1 pick in the 2012 draft, Andrew Luck, the architectural engineering major from Stanford. Luck has, more generally, only outperformed Newton in QB rating in one of the four seasons they’ve been in the league together. The comparison is instructive, because since the day Luck entered the league, pundits have sung his praises as a smart, winning quarterback, an incredible asset to his team. Luck is also a big, fast guy with a tremendous arm – in other words, an athlete. But, boy, is the story about him different than it’s been about Cam, at least until this year, when Luck suffered through an injury riddled and disastrous season (including finishing 32nd in passer rating).

And with that – Go Panthers!

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