Let me first start by saying I, in no way was a fan of selecting Cam Newton first overall in the draft. In fact I vehemently disagreed with the pick until it was made. I wasn’t against it because of any off the field issues or even ridiculous statements like he had a fake smile. No, it is always about the on the field production for me, and while Cam Newton dominated the South Eastern Conference in his one year at Auburn, I still had many questions about his game transitioning to the pro level. I had concerns about how his experience in the spread offense would transition into a pro style offense, questions about whether he could go through his reads on the field and questions about whether he could show poise in the pocket and not resort to taking off and scrambling when pressure got anywhere near him. For one week at least Cam Newton made myself, and almost every “expert” in the National sports media look like fools.
It wasn’t the 422 yards that put him in NFL history or even finding Steve Smith twice for touchdowns (although that certainly helps). It wasn’t even that he he had just one interception, something that honestly shocked me. No it wasn’t any of those things. For me it was how a 22-year-old rookie quarterback with less than six weeks of experience in the pro game could look like a seasoned veteran. How he could go through his progressions and find the open man, how unlike in the preseason he was not dependent on check downs to his tight ends and how incredibly accurate he was. It was how he stayed in the pocket and delivered strikes, how he put touch on the ball to allow receivers to make a play and how he was able to diagnose and dissect the Arizona blitz packages. Maybe I should have listened to his Auburn teammates, former coaches like Gus Malzahn and NFL Hall of Famer Warren Moon when they said he was a gamer. I kept hearing when the lights go on this kid takes it to another level, I should have listened….
It’s not that I thought Newton would be a failure in the NFL, I certainly didn’t. I just never imagined he would play this well in his first “real” start. It felt like I was watching someone play Madden as I witnessed Newton picking apart the Cardinals secondary. I was under the impression that he was a project QB who would take several years to develop into a capable starter. If Sunday was a sign of things to come the project will be a huge success.
When the preseason ended against the Steelers Newton had completed just 42% of his passes, on Sunday Cam shredded the Cardinals defense with a completion percentage of 65%, good enough for 15th in the NFL. More importantly it was good enough to be mentioned with fellow NFC South quarterbacks Matt Ryan, Drew Brees and Josh Freeman. As the preseason began I believed the Panthers had an astronomical weakness at QB in the division. Now, I’m not so sure the gap is going to be that large.
While it would be unrealistic to think Newton is going to throw for 422 yards and have a 110 quarterback rating every week, it certainly isn’t unrealistic to think he could be a great quarterback sooner rather than later, at least not anymore. While he’s sure to have a couple of “clunkers” the skills Newton showed off Sunday proved he could be an elite quarterback in this game.
I criticized the coaching staff and front office for wanting to take a chance on Cam, even though I knew the pick was about potential. I realized that if the Panthers could get what they wanted out of Newton he would be a star for years to come, but I still wanted to go the safe route. I wanted Patrick Peterson of LSU or Marcell Dareus from Alabama I even would have settled for A.J. Green of Georgia despite not having a proven quarterback to get him the ball.
But no, the pick was Newton and like many other Panthers fans I supported the 22-year-old the moment he held his jersey up, but I still feel the need to say “I’m sorry I was wrong…” to the “Big Cat” Jerry Richardson, to Marty Hurney, to Ron Rivera and his coaching staff, but more importantly to Cameron Newton. While any of those other players would have been great in their own right Newton was what this franchise needed and deserved. In three hours he showed me that he had the skills to be a superstar and I now have full confidence that Cameron Newton will one day bring the Big Cat the Lombardi he promised to Panther Nation….