We Should Be Talking More About Cam Newton's Awful Performance This Year
Pretty much the entire season, we've been waiting for things to click for Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers. He's the reigning Most Valuable Player, and we know he generally has stupid amounts of talent -- so why wouldn't we think that?
The problem is that we're now at Week 15, and it still hasn't all come together. The Panthers are no longer in playoff contention at 5-8, and Newton's play has been a part of that struggle. At some point, we probably need to go from waiting for a turnaround to accepting that it just isn't happening this year.
Obviously, not all of the blame goes on Newton. Left tackle Michael Oher has been on the shelf since Week 4 with a concussion, and center Ryan Kalil is now on injured reserve. That's going to cause issues for any quarterback, and it's a factor we need to consider with Newton. But his play this year hasn't really generated the discussion it likely should have.
We can quantify Newton's struggles using numberFire's Net Expected Points (NEP), the metric we use to track the efficiency of both teams and players. A three-yard completion on 3rd-and-2 is radically different from that same three-yard completion on 3rd-and-4, and NEP helps illustrate those differences by showing the expected points each play adds or subtracts from a team's total throughout the year.
Let's take a look at just how much Newton has struggled this year to show why this isn't something we should overlook because of the talent.
Bottom of the Barrel
Last year, Newton absolutely deserved the accolades he garnered by gashing opponents both through the air and on the ground. He was eighth in Passing NEP per drop back of the 37 quarterbacks with at least 200 drop backs, and he added a whopping 41.20 Rushing NEP, easily the most among all quarterbacks. That's how you win the league's MVP, and that was fully legitimate.
Newton hasn't been the same this year, though. Instead, he sits all the way down in 28th in Passing NEP per drop back of the 38 quarterbacks with at least 100 drop backs. He's one spot behind the elite Joe Flacco, and he's one spot ahead of the now bench-riding Ryan Fitzpatrick. This isn't a short-term problem any more, y'all.
To flesh this all out, let's do a little blind resume comparison. Below are the NEP lines for three separate quarterbacks, and you have to decipher which is Newton's.
|Player||Passing NEP||Passing NEP per Drop Back||Rushing NEP|
Because this is a piece about Newton's struggles, and you're an intelligent human, you've probably guessed that Newton is Quarterback C. Congratulations! Streamers for everybody.
Quarterback B has added some sauciness with his rushing, and his passing efficiency has been better than Newton's. That's Tyrod Taylor, whom the Buffalo Bills considered sending to the bench two weeks ago. This should show that the Bills would be idiotic to do so while also fleshing out more reasons for concern from Newton.
Quarterback C doesn't have the rushing, but his passing efficiency has been well beyond that of both Newton and Taylor. Given the amped-up numbers through the air, this might not be a bad guy to be leading a franchise.
Again, we can't fully blame Newton for these struggles with all of the issues on his offensive line, but you could make the same excuses for Kessler, Andrew Luck, Ryan Tannehill, and Sam Bradford, all of whom are easily out-pacing Newton in the efficiency department. At the end of the day, some of this responsibility has to come down on Newton himself.
This begs the question about whether or not Newton's season is the worst we have seen from a reigning MVP. The answer there is a resounding no, and this may provide a bit of hope for Newton once we flip the calendar to 2017.
A Reason for Optimism
You don't have to go back far to find a player who struggled this mightily in the year after his MVP season. In fact, it happened just last year with Aaron Rodgers.
Rodgers was in almost the exact same spot in 2015 where Newton is right now. He finished that year ranked 27th in Passing NEP per drop back, just one spot off where Newton currently sits. Rodgers' offensive line also battled health issues, and his play reflected it.
This year, though, Rodgers has bounced back in a big way. He's up to sixth in Passing NEP per drop back thanks to some sweet play by Jordy Nelson and Davante Adams. That one down season wasn't indicative of what to expect for Rodgers going forward, and it's possible that Newton could duplicate that turnaround.
Digging back a bit deeper, Kurt Warner's 2002 season was the blueprint of disaster for reigning MVPs. He was 33rd in Passing NEP per drop back after leading the league in that stat the two years prior. It took him a while, but he eventually rebounded with the Arizona Cardinals to finish in the top 12 in Passing NEP per drop back three consecutive seasons from 2007 to 2009.
This means that we shouldn't rule out a big rebound from Newton in 2017, especially when you consider just how good he was last year. Even in a lost season full of frustrations, there's still a bit of hope remaining for Newton.
When diagnosing what went wrong with the Panthers this year, all discussions should include Newton's play. The excuses that exist aren't enough to wipe out the treachery he has displayed on the field.
Newton has been well below replacement-level through the air, and his rushing output hasn't been enough to compensate. His metrics are in the same tier as players who have lost their jobs this year, and while that's obviously not an option for Newton, it does show that the Panthers should have expected more.
At the same time, we don't want to count Newton out simply because of one bad year. Plenty of quarterbacks have had rough patches before rekindling their former dominance. If the Panthers can improve their core of wide receivers and potentially add some bodies up front, there's no reason to think Newton won't rebound as soon as next season.