Why Cam Newton comes up a little short in MVP discussion
Cam Newton is coming off his best game of the season and is forcing his name into the MVP conversation by carrying the Carolina Panthers to an undefeated record deep into November.
Newton is a unique player at the position who brings things to the table no other quarterback can. At 6-foot-5 and over 250 pounds, he dwarfs defenders that are supposed to be tasked with taking him down, and the Panthers are able to employ him as a very real part of their rushing attack.
Being a running quarterback isn’t that unusual in today’s NFL — players like Russell Wilson form an important part of Seattle’s rushing attack — but the way in which Newton runs is. Wilson is a very real threat to pull the ball and take off if a team overcommits to Marshawn Lynch or the rest of the Seattle running game, but Wilson will take the space that is there before getting down and avoiding big hits.
The reason most teams don’t use their quarterbacks as rushing threats – even athletic ones – is because of the exposure to hits and the risk of injury. Newton has the size and power to not just take those hits, but deliver them. The team doesn’t just let him pull the ball on option plays if space opens up, but they will run QB-power plays with him as the ball-carrier, letting him blast through a hole and gain hard yards inside.
Here he is casually forcing his way through four Titans defenders to reach across the goal line and score in yesterday’s game.
Newton is the foundation of Carolina’s offense unlike any other quarterback. (Newton currently ranks No. 13 in our QB grades, but that alone doesn’t capture everything he does for this offense.) When you consider what his receiving options are, he’s having a pretty good year passing on top of that. Ted Ginn is legitimately the team’s No. 1 option at wide receiver. Ginn is closer to being out of the league than he is to being a No. 1 wideout on any other roster – that’s how bare the Panthers are since losing Kelvin Benjamin to injury in the preseason. Rookie Devin Funchess is beginning to make some plays, but he has still dropped half as many passes (6) as he has caught (12). Newton is generating a passing game with a group of players that wouldn’t see the field anywhere else.
As well as he is playing, he’s not quite at the top of the MVP race this season because of Tom Brady and Carson Palmer, who are both playing spectacular football through 10 weeks of the NFL season.
For as well as Newton is getting things done with that receiving corps, he still misses far too many routine throws through no fault of his receivers. Newton consistently misses high on throws and it doesn’t seem like something the Panthers can fix – to the point they appear to have accepted it as an inherent flaw in him and are intent on surrounding him with massively tall receivers to increase the catch radius he has to work with. His completion percentage this season stands at just 56.3, and while some of that does rest with his receivers, it’s worth noting that none of them are actually grading negatively overall at the moment. His receiving corps may be limited, but they aren’t playing consistently badly.
By contrast, Brady is completing 67.8 percent of his passes and Palmer 64.0 percent, despite playing in an aggressive downfield passing offense.
Newton is a unique weapon in today’s NFL and is carrying that Carolina team as much as any other quarterback in the NFL (although it’s worth noting that the Panthers’ standout defense deserves a lot of credit for the team’s undefeated start), but his deficiencies as a passer are what keeps him behind Palmer and Brady in the MVP race. Both players are maximizing their efficiency as passers, which remains a quarterback’s most important job.