Cam Newton Will Still Be a Top Fantasy Football Quarterback in 2019
The late-season collapse of the 2018 Carolina Panthers, not to mention the loss of form of their talismanic quarterback Cam Newton, seems to have affected the mindset of fantasy owners as we prepare for the 2019 season.
The second half of the Panthers' season was a huge disappointment, to be sure.They were 6-2 at the halfway point, averaging 2.42 points per drive and 27.5 points per game. They won just a single game the rest of the way, and saw their scoring output drop to 1.92 points per drive and 19.5 per game.
Newton just didn't pass the eyeball test in the second of the year, with his arm strength seeming to desert him along the way. This was due to an issue with a shoulder that Newton had previously had surgically repaired. Newton was twice benched in favor of backup Taylor Heinicke, who came in to throw Hail Marys towards the end of Panthers losses. Newton was finally shut down with two weeks remaining in the season.
This lapse seems to have colored the perception of Newton as a fantasy-relevant quarterback. He has an average draft position (ADP) of QB13 over the past month, putting him in the territory of "weekly streamer" rather than a plug-and-play every-week starter. numberFire's models are higher on Newton than the average drafter so far, and we have him as our QB6 in our rankings.
Newton has been nothing short of a fantasy superstar ever since he entered the NFL. While he may have looked bad at times last season, particularly in the second half of the campaign, there is something that seems to have escaped the attention of many fantasy players -- Newton wasn't actually all that bad in the second half of the season.
After being taken with the first overall pick in 2011, Newton has scored the third-most fantasy points at the quarterback position whilst averaging 20.08 fantasy points per game.
This success is not solely thanks to his deeds with his arm, of course, but he is 9th among all quarterbacks in both attempts and yards between 2011-2018, with his 3,892 passes bringing him 28,442 yards. He is also just outside the top ten in touchdown passes, with 182.
His fantasy output has been boosted by his ability to run with the ball as well. Newton is 14th among all NFL players (not just quarterbacks) with 4,800 rushing yards in the last eight seasons. Only Marshawn Lynch has more rushing touchdowns in this period than Newton's 59.
Was the Second Half of his 2019 Season That Bad?
In the first seven weeks of the 2018 season, Newton amassed 1,427 yards through the air, with 11 touchdown passes. Thanks to his rushing production (52 carries, 257 yards and three touchdowns), he had the 11th-most fantasy points among quarterbacks.
Over his next eight games, he amassed 1,968 yards and another 13 touchdowns, but only had a single score on the ground. Despite this absence, Newton scored the sixth most fantasy points at his position. So despite not performing in the area in which he has excelled in his career, he was still able to remain fantasy relevant thanks to his work as a passer.
Our passing metrics at numberFire shows a distinct difference between Newton's passing between Week 1 and 7, and from Week 8 to 15. In the former, Newton averaged 0.14 Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per play. Only once in his career had Newton managed to sustain an average higher than this over the course of a season, and that was back in his MVP campaign of 2015.
However, after Week 7 (the week in which Newton first started to experience shoulder pain) Newton's passing NEP per play dropped to 0.08. However, his Passing Success rate, the percentage of passes on which a player generates positive NEP, improved from 48.86% to 51.6%. You can learn more about NEP in our glossary.
Despite a loss in overall efficiency, Newton still averaged 7.5 yards per attempt after his injury began bothering him, against 6.7 between Weeks 1 and 7. Newton's passing, despite looking ugly at times, was keeping him afloat as a fantasy option after he ceased to be effective as a runner. Newton was entrusted with six carries inside the opposition ten yard lines between Weeks 1 and 7, and scored three times. Between Week 8 and 15, Newton called his own number just three times in that area of the field, and he failed to score on any of them. Overall, this gave Newton his fewest carries inside the ten in any season of his career, while his 33% touchdown rate on the goalline was also a new low.
Assuming Newton is back to full fitness by the start of the season, which all evidence seems to suggest that he will be, his progress in his first season under Norv Turner as a passer should continue to stand him in good stead. Newton set career highs in pass completions (320) and pass completion percentage (67.9%) in 2018, and as evidenced by his Passing NEP early in the season he was nearly as efficient on a per-play basis through as he was in his best ever season.
He also goes into the 2019 season with a solid group of pass-catchers at his disposal.
D.J. Moore and Curtis Samuel look set to man the receiver spots for the Panthers, with the 2019 season possibly offering one last hurrah for stud tight end Greg Olsen. There is also the not insignificant figure of Christian McCaffrey, who whilst a runner by trade has made an electric start to his career as a receiver out of the backfield. No other running back since the merger has caught more balls in their first two seasons in the NFL than McCaffrey, who has 187 receptions for 1,518 yards and 11 touchdowns.
A Vulture in the Panthers Midst
McCaffrey's presence, as beneficial as it is for Newton in the passing game, does have potential drawbacks though.
When Newton was healthy, McCaffrey was entrusted with only six carries inside the 10-yard line. After Newton began to suffer, this number jumped to 19, resulting in six touchdowns for McCaffrey. No one in the entire NFL saw more carries in this area between Weeks 8 and 15, while only Derrick Henry scored more touchdowns.
Should Newton be healthy enough to rush effectively down at the goal line, he may still find himself having to split carries with his lead running back. However, Newton has scored at least five touchdowns on the ground in seven of his eight NFL seasons, and the presence of another potential carrier may make it easier for him to sneak a couple rather than risk bulldozing right into the teeth of an expectant defensive front.
If the news out of the Panthers continues to be positive regarding their all time leader in most passing categories, then I would expect Newton's ADP to rise considerably as we approach the season. If you are able to get him at his current price, then congratulations. You may have landed yourself a bargain for the 2019 season.