Many months ago, when the snows of winter covered our lands, I had the idea for a list of athletes “with the most unlocked potential that are currently hovering on the edge of the spotlight. Some may be in the spotlight, but have just arrived. Others will have been fully in the spotlight and since faded, their potential still intact.” This countdown, which is finally nearing its conclusion, was largely inspired by Cam Newton.
The 2012-2013 NFL season had a number of compelling storylines, but perhaps none was as exciting as the emergence of the dual threat quarterbacks. Robert Griffin III lived up to even the loftiest expectations before tearing his ACL, showing an excellent arm as well as electric running ability. Russell Wilson, far less heralded than RG3, quietly stole the show with an outstanding season that was equal to any rookie’s. Colin Kaepernick, second year player but first year starter, took over one of the more difficult quarterback controversies and never looked back until his 49ers lost in the Super Bowl, making big time throws and running with speed and power.
The fate of the dual threat quarterback in the spread option system is yet to be determined. Aaron Rodgers and many others believe that it is just a fad that will die out as quarterbacks become injured (RG3) or teams figure out how to effectively stop it. Problem: teams haven’t figured out yet how to stop it. And perhaps the best evidence for that is the other running and throwing quarterback who had a fine season last year, but somehow failed to take many headlines and lost his commercial dominance to RG3.
Cam Newton was Colin Kaepernick before there was Colin Kaepernick. 2011 was the Cam Newton Revolution. Remember? Seems like ancient history now. En route to winning Rookie of the Year, Cam Newton proved his numerous doubters wrong and had an excellent first season. He was named NEXT by ESPN the Magazine.
Coming into last season, expectations were high for Newton and, to an extent, the Carolina Panthers. However, Newton started the season off shaky, highlighted by pouting on the sideline and showing signs of immaturity. The media was ready to move on, as RG3 and Andrew Luck were lighting it up. Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick were not far behind. So Newton, arguably the brightest star in the NFL a few months earlier, faded from the spotlight. The NFL is focused on the now, and if a player starts to play poorly, the media stays around just long enough to criticize them before they move on.
Near the end of the season, so much was going on in the NFL, including Colin Kaepernick’s arrival and Adrian Peterson’s run at history, that the media failed to notice the way Cam Newton finished his second campaign. The Panthers ended up winning five of their last six games. In those games, Newton completed about 59% of his passes and threw 10 touchdowns to only 2 interceptions. He averaged 6.5 yards per carry and tallied 4 rushing touchdowns. Those aren’t the Superman numbers we grew accustomed to at times during the first half of year one, but they are the numbers of a maturing quarterback who wins games.
Cam Newton’s rookie season was phenomenal. Perhaps it set the bar too high for year two. However, his numbers in his second season ended up being comparable, slightly worse in some stats but better in others. And if his final numbers are compared to the headline-making rookies of a year ago, his game holds up: his rushing average was not as good as RG3’s, but he had more long runs and fumbled with less frequency. His passer rating was higher than Andrew Luck’s. He fumbled less than Colin Kaepernick and ran much better than Wilson. This is not to say that his numbers are better than these guys: in fact, I would say Griffin, Luck, Kaepernick, and Wilson all had better seasons than Cam Newton. What I’m saying is Cam Newton should be mentioned with these guys when discussing this new breed of dual threat quarterback. Every team that played Cam Newton in 2012 had a season’s worth of film on him and he still managed very solid numbers, particularly late in the season, where he had struggled as a rookie. The rest of these guys took the NFL by surprise.
For two seasons, Cam Newton has shown that he can throw and run at a high level. He has been durable and appears able to take the hits. Now I want to see this incredibly gifted athlete take the next step. He has charisma, but it manifests in the form of cockiness. He needs to take his team over and win games by making big plays in winning time. I want to see him on the sideline getting teammates prepared, not sulking. I want to see that too perfect smile in more commercials. Cam Newton looks like a superstar: we’ll see if he’s ready to be one.
It’s Still Your Turn Countdown
10. John Wall
9. Tim Tebow
8. Carmelo Anthony
7. Derrick Rose
5. Wayne Rooney
4. The Exiles
3. Cam Newton
2. Coming Soon
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