Cam Newton, QB #1
Hometown: Atlanta, GA
Experience: 2 years
Just days before the University of Florida would go on to win the 2008 BCS title, Cam Newton announced he would be leaving the program. He would move on to Blinn Junior College in Texas, where he would lead the team to the 2009 NJCAA National Football Championship. in 2010, in Newton’s one and only season at Auburn University, the Tigers went from 8-5 and a fifth place finish in the Southeastern Conference to an undefeated national championship season.
Cam Newton had a rather undistinguished beginning to his college football career, only to finish it on top of the world with a Heisman Trophy in one hand and a Carolina Panthers cap in the other after he was taken with the first overall in the 2011 NFL Draft. Now he is one of the hottest properties in the league, both on and off the field.
Armed with a thousand-watt smile and an infectious personality, Newton took the National Football League by storm, setting numerous passing and rushing records by a first-year player to win Rookie of the Year and making professional football relevant again in the Carolinas.
The Panthers were on a steady decline from their 12-4 season in 2008, leading to a disastrous 2-14 record two seasons later when they scored just 196 points, an average of just over a dozen a game. As if that wasn’t bad enough, attendance was on the decline with fans finding other things to do on Sundays.
Head coach John Fox was let go after nine seasons and in came a new staff led by Ron Rivera, and at the end of his first training camp, the Panthers had a new quarterback. Newton had the confidence and the leadership ability of a veteran, and Carolina finished 6-10. That is only a plus-four in wins from the previous season, but the biggest jump was the points on the board going from 196 to 406, which was fifth best in the league. They were dead last in 2010.
Jake Delhomme is the team’s all-time passing leader with 19,258 and with just one NFL season under his belt, Newton already has more than one-fifth that total. His 4,051 was 312 more than Peyton Manning’s rookie mark and his size––6-foot-5 and 245-pounds––was the main reason he snapped the rushing record for first-year quarterbacks.
There is more to Newton than just stats. He is young (his 24th birthday comes three months after the next Super Bowl), physically gifted, arguably the best passing and running quarterback in the game and can electrify a stadium or television audience with plays not usually seen from those at his position.
Newton is a big reason why the Panthers are being looked at as a possible playoff contender this year, and that would be quite an accomplishment, considering they had but two wins just a couple of years ago. A look at the offense gives them a legitimate shot. The defense is another story, because it would have to do better than the 429 points allowed in 2011. A lot better.
The thing that might scare the rest of the league is the fact that Cam Newton could get better. And if he does, it might not matter how many points the defense gives up.
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Ted Fleming is a freelance writer covering all things Carolina Panthers. His work can be found on Examiner.com.