Early ADP Check: Cam and JStew
There is no shame in seeing your season go down in flames during a second-round playoff game in Seattle. Despite the fact that the Panthers finished 2014 strong, two of the main catalysts of that run haven’t exactly been feeling the love in early MFL10 drafts. This will likely change over the next couple of months, but for now, short memories have created an exploitable situation.
During the four games in which Cam Newton and Jonathan Stewart played together after their Week 12 bye, we got a glimpse of what the Panthers offense can be. With DeAngelo Williams finally mothballed, Stewart averaged 6.0 yards per carry in Weeks 13, 14, 16, and 17 (Newton missed Week 15 after a car accident). JStew ranked fourth in Breakaway Percentage and eighth in Elusive Rating during those weeks, while registering the eighth-best fantasy points per opportunity (PPO; 0.48) of any back with at least 30 carries.
Stewart is starting to generate some enthusiasm in Fantasyland for good reason. But he still sports a positional ADP below two rookies with yet-to-be-determined destinations, several backs who will be in timeshares of varying severity, and Mark Ingram—who is probably fantasy fool’s gold if he doesn’t wind up in Dallas. I’d take Stewart before Justin Forsett as well, at least until we know how Baltimore’s backfield will shake out.
While Newton’s re-emergence in the second half of 2014—and particularly in December—is just as noteworthy, he’s generating less buzz than his teammate. During the aforementioned four-game sample in which Stewart was unleashed, Newton was the highest-scoring quarterback in fantasy. His 0.71 points per dropback ranked second during those weeks and would have bettered Aaron Rodgers’ full-season-high of 0.63 by a healthy margin.
It’s apparently easy to forget what a dominant weapon Newton was before his injury-muted 2014. With two fantasy No. 4 quarterback finishes coming on the heels of a rookie-year No. 3 quarterback campaign in 2011, the fact that he’s being drafted as the seventh quarterback is striking. Newton’s current ADP is essentially in the same spot (eighth round; No. 7 quarterback) as it was in post-August 1st MFL10s, when concern over his mobility after ankle surgery (and a rib injury) was at its peak.
Newton averaged 3.5 rushing attempts during his first four games last season. After that he averaged 8.9 over his final 10 games, and nearly 10 per contest in the four-game JStew-heavy sample discussed above (9.8). For the sake of reference, Newton averaged 7.9 rushes per game in his first two seasons, and 6.9 in his third. It’s common knowledge that he derives much of his fantasy value from his legs, and last summer folks were justifiably wary of diminished effectiveness in this area. For whatever reason, expectations have yet to be recalibrated, and an inefficiency exists.
Play action is another part of Newton’s game that we can expect to see return to form. Since PFF began collecting play action data in 2012, he’s been one of the league’s better passers while using it—and a large percentage of his dropbacks have involved run fakes. Below, we can see three seasons worth of his play action percentages, what his quarterback rating was while using it, and where he ranked. Notice the overall dropoff in 2014, and just below that, the major difference between the JStew-heavy weeks mentioned above, and the rest of Newton’s season.
|Year||% Play Action||Rank||PA QBR||Rank|
|Weeks 13, 14, 16, 17||31.8%||1st||118.6||4th|
|Other 2014 Weeks||25.3%||6th||80.9||22nd|
Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman has done an excellent job of digging out from the salary cap hellscape that he inherited from Marty Hurney. Carolina will be making upgrades to their roster this offseason, particularly along the offensive line and at receiver. Newton was essentially able to parlay two weapons, Greg Olsen and Kelvin Benjamin, into a reasonable passing attack last year. We can expect better in 2015 as his supporting cast improves and he is further removed from the injuries.
Drawing concrete conclusions from a four-game sample is dangerous, but even if we only view it as Newton re-establishing his baseline of healthy performance, it’s extremely encouraging. Depending on what upgrades are made, a reasonable argument exists that he should be drafted as a top-five fantasy quarterback. At this early stage of the offseason, aside from Andrew Luck and Aaron Rodgers, I can’t say with confidence that there is another fantasy signal caller I’d rather have in 2015. Until he becomes more expensive, I’ll continue to aggressively draft him in MFL10s.
Pat Thorman is a Lead Writer for PFF Fantasy and was named 2013 Newcomer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. You can follow him on Twitter at @Pat_Thorman