Watching Cam Newton play against the Saints last Sunday, you wouldn’t think you were watching a former MVP going up against one of the worst defenses of the last three years. You’d probably think the exact opposite.
Against the Saints, Newton did not look good, going 17 for 26 for only 167 yards and three interceptions. The most damning thing you can say about his performance is that he made the Saints defense look good. This is a defense that started the season giving up 346 yards to Sam Bradford and was coming off a 447 yard shellacking at the hands of Tom Brady. Yet in Week 3, they gave up less yards through the air than the Seahawks, Broncos, Bills and Jaguars (yes I’m including the Jaguars here). That’s saying something.
Sadly this performance has been nothing new for Newton as this has been one of the worst starts to the quarterback’s career. Through the first three games, he’s thrown for only 566 yards—the worst output of his career during that period—and has only two passing touchdowns, something he hasn’t done since the opening of his sophomore season back in 2012. His yards per attempt (6.82) and his quarterback rating (69.7) are both career lows (through the first three games).
However, while these numbers may sound bad—and they are, I’m not pretending they’re not—they aren’t exactly foreign to Cam Newton. As just a passer, Newton is actually not great. He has a career completion percentage of 58.5, has only one 4,000 passing yard season (his rookie year oddly enough), and has never thrown under 10 interceptions in a season. Last year, thirteen quarterbacks threw over 4,000 yards and nineteen threw 20 or more touchdowns. Newton did neither.
What’s made Newton a unique quarterback in both real and fantasy football has been his ability to make plays as a runner. Between 2011 and 2016, only running backs Marshawn Lynch and LeSean McCoy have scored more rushing touchdowns than Newton (51 and 49 respectively to Cam’s 48). His ability to make plays on the ground and be a threat, particularly in the red zone, is what has made Newton an unstoppable weapon in the past.
But that aspect of his game has taken a hit.
Newton is on pace for only 75 carries, 245 yards and five rushing touchdowns this season. That would be the lowest output of rushing yards in his career and tie for least rushing touchdowns. His 75 carries would be 15 less than his previous career low of 90 set last year.
Not all of this slow start can be blamed on Newton’s shoulders. He’s currently playing without his top two receiving targets in Greg Olsen and Kelvin Benjamin. The running game has been nowhere near as powerful as it has been in years past, forcing Newton to do more with his arm. Without his full arsenal of weapons, Cam has resorted to either checkdowns or locking into his target pre snap and telegraphing his reads, which unsurprisingly led to two of this interceptions Sunday. Example A:
Fortunately for Newton, Panthers fans and those with Cam on their fantasy team, his schedule does get easier moving forward. Of the next 11 teams the Panthers face, eight of them rank 20th or below in pass defense (per DVOA). While that should bring some comfort to fantasy owners and Panthers fans alike, in the next three weeks the Panthers face two teams ranked in the top 15, so the turnaround isn’t about to happen soon. Also, Cam did just look very tame against a 25th ranked Saints pass defense.
If you decide to move on from Newton, who’s even out there to target? With young quarterbacks seemingly taking big steps, I would recommend going and picking up a Deshaun Watson or Jared Goff (can’t believe I just wrote that) as a streaming option. Also, Trevor Siemian, Tyrod Taylor and Sam Bradford are all owned in less than 50% of Yahoo! leagues. If you want to be super dastardly, Teddy Bridgewater is set to come off the PUP list soon and has said he’s ready to go. With Bradford’s knee up in the air, Bridgewater might be back to reclaim his starting job.
Ultimately what to do with Cam comes down to personal preference. I like to plug my starting quarterback into my lineup and not worry about him until his bye. Some people are really good at streaming and like changing their signal callers week to week. There’s no wrong way to eat a Reese’s. Personally, I don’t like what I’ve seen out of Newton to start this season and with so many of his pass catchers injured, I don’t foresee him suddenly getting back on track. If you’re determined to keep the former MVP, please at least have a backup plan in mind.
Are you moving on from Cam Newton?
This poll is closed
Yup, dropping him ASAP
I’m going to give him one more week
I have a backup QB ready and waiting
No, Cam will right the ship