Editor’s Note: Cam Newton was WIRED FOR SOUND in the Panthers’ Week 16 win over Tampa Bay. Before you hear Newton tonight on Inside the NFL & SoundFX, here’s Greg Cosell’s take on the rookie quarterback’s transformation from Auburn to Carolina.
Cam Newton has had an unprecedented first season in the NFL. The reason is not what you’d expect. We all know he broke Peyton Manning’s rookie record for passing yardage, but that’s simply the statistical narrative. The far more impressive element is how he did it. No quarterback has exhibited such a dramatic difference in the method of his success from college to the NFL.
Newton was primarily a run option quarterback at Auburn, where we all saw the big arm and the occasional NFL throw. But high level quarterback play in the NFL results from playing primarily in the pocket because NFL offenses are based on passing the football: a skill that demands dropping back, planting your back foot, and delivering the ball with accuracy to the right receiver at the right time. Because he wasn’t consistently asked to do this in college, it was unknown if Newton could make the transition from runner to passer quickly. Without the benefit of an off-season it seemed even less likely that he could adapt in time for his rookie year.
What was remarkable about Newton was he demonstrated many of these traits of an NFL passer right away. Beginning in Week 1 against Arizona, he read coverage, he knew where to go with the football, he was decisive and accurate. The next week he played the Super Bowl champion Packers and was truly impressive, showing NFL attributes beginning with poise and composure in the pocket. More importantly, he did not leave the pocket to run when the bodies started closing it down. He stood tall and delivered the ball in the face of pressure. He showed the willingness to make stick throws into tight windows, a necessary trait in critical long yardage situations against sophisticated NFL coverages.
Again, considering the way Newton was asked to play quarterback at Auburn, he was now performing in a totally unexpected and unforeseen way: he was throwing the ball effectively from the pocket; he was not impatient or hurried; he was not running, unless he had absolutely no choice or it was a designed play call. This continued as the season progressed. He improved significantly as a progression reader. This was particularly evident off play action, when it is imperative to snap your head around off the run fake and locate the coverage quickly.
Certainly there were inconsistencies and bad plays; he went through a difficult stretch of games in which he was wild high and missed too many routine throws. He had moments when he did not read the coverage correctly and forced throws.
But ultimately Newton has succeeded this season the only way that NFL quarterbacks consistently can, by throwing the ball well from the pocket. That would not have seemed likely as recently as August. Now, by demonstrating a combination of arm talent and pocket command, there’s no question that Newton has a chance to be a special quarterback.