Why Cam Newton comes up a little short in MVP discussion

Cam Newton is the NFL's most unique quarterback, and is carrying the Carolina offense. But he isn't at an MVP level just yet.

| 1 year ago
(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

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.

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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.

| Senior Analyst

Sam is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus, as well as a contributor to ESPN.

  • guest101

    I thought a quarterback’s most important job was to win games on the ground or through the air

  • Cyteria Knight

    Although I don’t disagree with your general assessment of Cam’s inaccuracy at times I disagree with your conclusion. You use the term unique but I say that that uniqueness is what makes Cam an MVP candidate. Please also note that although the Panthers are surrounding Cam with “taller” WR’s. Unfortunately only 1 of them is playing consistently on Game Day. (Greg Olsen). Before last week’s game against Green Bay, Devin Funchess was not very involved in the offense. Cam has been doing it with shorter & older WR’s. This year despite what the numbers say, Cam Newton meats the true definition of MVP & not Stats MVP.

  • JudoPrince

    “By contrast, Brady is completing 67.8 percent of his passes and Palmer 64.0 percent, despite playing in an aggressive downfield passing offense.”

    This is where the argument becomes flawed. Even though Brady takes shots down the field, its often set up by a completion friendly short pass game. The Pats incorporate far more WR, RB screen concepts into their game plan, not to mention the abundance of pick plays that leave receivers wide open. They also have #11 and #80 who can consistently get wide open in underneath coverage.

    Newton runs a completely different offense. The Panthers offense is based off of the read option run threat, leaving them far less room for short pass routes and screens. Working off of play action, the WR’s route progressions are consistently attacking the seams of the defense on deep slants and long corner routes. These throws are inherently more difficult, require exceptional timing with receivers and are not completion % friendly. When you see Newton throw high or behind a target on a slant route, its often that he’s expecting a receiver to progress deeper into the route or settle into the soft spot of coverage. Ted Ginn and Corey Brown just are not going to create the separation downfield as other WR in this league, despite their fair play.

  • Ben M

    At training camp Newton had:
    1. 6’5″/240 Kelvin Benjamin, 2nd year 1st round 2014, now on IR
    2. 6″4″/215 Stephen Hill 4th year, 2nd round 2012, now on IR (reclamation project)
    3. 6’5″/230 Devin Funchess, rookie, 2nd round 2015, slowly coming along.
    4. 5’11″/178 Ted Ginn (reclamation project, problems with drops)
    5. 6’1″/211 Jerricho Cotchery (solid, if slow, aging veteran)
    6. 6’0″/190 Corey “Philly” Brown (undrafted, best a 4th receiver)
    7. 6’3″/211 Brenton Berson (undrafted, hands like glue, but separation issues)
    8. 6’2″/198 Kevin Norwood. (reclamation project) (he came after camp.)

    As much as stones can be thrown at Newton, he’s had mush to work with. Not an MVP yet, but he has made music from clanging pots and pans.

    PS: Not to mention his second tight end, Ed Dickson was rated worst tight end of the first half 2015 by PFF.

  • crosseyedlemon

    There is an inherent flaw with all MVP awards because you can’t truly determine the value of any player until you have to get by without them.

  • Kornel Hartung

    It must be very difficult to be on target as a passer after getting so many hits on the move. He intentionally sacrificed his passing accuracy for the physical play, because he had the ability. And he was proven right this season so far.

  • Cam Newton

    Fuck Tom Brady.

    • Cam Newton jr.

      I cosign, fuck that pussy cheating hoe ass bitch brady

  • JT

    Brady doesn’t play in an aggressive downfield passing offense….they throw short 10 times for every big passing play. The Panthers convert pretty much every first down in 1 single pass there is a big difference between the 2 passing attacks.