Why Cam Newton Will (Again) Outperform Your Fantasy Football Expectations
Let me tell you the tale of one Cameron Jerrell Newton. Cameron, or Cam as we'll call him, is a very good National Football League quarterback. He's had three top-notch seasons in the NFL. And he's only 25 years old.
The problem with Cam is that he lost all of his toys this winter. He used to enjoy slinging the football around with his friend, little Stevie Smith. Then almost all of the big kids that used to defend him from the meanie butt defenses retired. Cam was left all alone, with no supporting cast around him. And the fantasy football fans fled even more quickly than his friends.
According to Fantasy Football Calculator, Newton had an average draft position (ADP) in the fourth round in 12-team, non-PPR leagues the day after the Super Bowl. Less than three months later, he had already fallen into the eighth round. Now, Newton has rebounded a bit, but you still have greater than a 50 percent chance of getting Cam with the 80th overall pick, according to our quarterback pick probability distribution sheets. Quite a fall for a guy with such a reputation.
If history is any indication, Newton is now being heavily underrated by drafters. Let me show you why I say this with the help of some of numberFire's statistics. The one I'll use most heavily is Net Expected Points (NEP). This is the total expected points added or subtracted by a player throughout the course of a season relative to an average player. With Newton, I'll mostly be talking about Total NEP, which takes into account both Newton's abilities as a passer and a rusher. Without further ado, let's bust some myths, baby.
Newton's First Three Years Have Been Superb
Indulge me for a second as I look backward at the early portion of Newton's career. I know past performance can't predict future success blah blah blah blah, but this is more to establish Newton's studliness.
In his first three seasons, Newton has finished sixth, eighth and ninth respectively in the league among quarterbacks in Total NEP. The only other signal-callers to finish in the top nine in Total NEP each of the last three years are Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers. That's it.
Let's give you some comparison for that. Since 2005, there have only been 14 instances where a quarterback within the first three years of his career has posted a Total NEP greater than 82; three of those 14 occurrences belong to Newton. No player except for Newton has done so in each of his first three seasons since numberFire started tracking NEP in 2000.
When we look at Newton from a fake football perspective, things get even better. Because of his nose for the end zone, Newton has finished third, fourth and third, respectively, among quarterbacks in fantasy scoring during his first three seasons according to Pro Football Reference. Although his week-to-week consistency can be slightly maddening at times, he always ends up near the top of the rankings.
Newton's Supporting Cast Has Never Been Spectacular
People were up in arms this offseason when the Panthers cut Steve Smith. How will Cam possibly live, breathe, and function without the world's greatest receiver? Believe me: he'll find a way to battle on.
numberFire's JJ Zachariason wrote back in May that this year's version of the Panthers receivers may actually be better than the 2013 version. I'd recommend giving that piece a read quick because it presents a very convincing argument that Cam will be just fine.
You see, and this may come as a shock, Carolina's receivers weren't very good last year. Any time Ted Ginn, Jr. leads your team in a receiving category, it's generally indication that a full-blown dumpster fire was raging in the backyard. Ginn did lead the Panthers last year in Target NEP, which is Net Expected Points from each time a player was targeted, meaning it subtracts points in the instance of incomplete passes and interceptions. Ginn's 27.84 Target NEP ranked a whopping 33rd in the league. Streamers! Party hats! Confetti!
Oh, and the talented Mr. Smith? He finished 41st with a 23.53 Target NEP. For some perspective, that makes Smith just barely one point more valuable than Julio Jones was last year, and Jones only played in five games and had 51 fewer targets. Translation: this wasn't a huge loss.
In order to replace these guys, the Panthers were fairly aggressive in the offseason. Jerricho Cotchery actually would have been the team's best receiver last year based on Target NEP - he ranked 19th in the league last year at 40.45. Now, of course he won't replicate that because he actually scored all of the touchdowns last year, but he's not exactly a slouch. Jason Avant was blurgh with a -4.54 Target NEP, and Kelvin Benjamin has a bad case of the dropsies, but it's not like these guys are replacing Don Hudson and Jerry Rice here. Cam's used to mediocre weapons. He'll be fine.
The Five People in Front of Him Are Still Large Humans
With the way people have spoken about the Panthers' men up front, you'd think that they were a couple days north of puberty, still in that awkward, pimply stage of self-discovery. Not the case. These are real NFL football players who can (I assume?) protect one of the league's most mobile quarterbacks.
Right tackle Byron Bell came in with Newton in 2011 and has played in 47 and started 41 games since then. Right guard Amini Silatolu was a second-round pick three years ago and has started every NFL game in which he has played. He missed the final 13 games of last year with a wrist injury, but he's back this year; shouldn't that give you more confidence in Newton? Center Ryan Kalil is the veteran of the unit, with 84 career starts under his belt. Left tackle Nate Chandler started the final eight games of last year, less than a year after transitioning to offense from defense. Right guard Trai Turner, a rookie third-round pick from LSU, is the only guy without legit NFL experience.
If you don't think those five guys can be competent enough to let a talent like Cam Newton thrive, you may be sorely mistaken. They're certainly not the best offensive line in the league, and they're probably far from it. But it's enough to invalidate dropping Cam down to the tenth-ranked quarterback.
Cam Newton: Perennially Underrated
Let's revisit our previous discussion about Newton's fantasy football value, and compare that to his ADP from each year to see if people are properly valuing SuperCam.
|Season||Final QB Rank||Preseason ADP|
You can pretty much throw the first season out because drafting rookie quarterbacks is a risky business, and I don't blame people for underestimating him there. However, each of the last two years, even with the lofty expectations, Newton has still managed to outperform his ADP in both. This year, his ADP is as the 10th-ranked quarterback. Think he'll outperform that one, too? Your answer, in all likelihood, will be yes, my friend.
Joanie loves Chachi. Greg loves Marsha. numberFire's algorithms love Cam. Right now, Newton has the fourth-highest projection of any quarterback, according to our rest-of-season projections. This puts Newton at the top of the second tier of quarterbacks, ahead of guys like Andrew Luck and Matthew Stafford, both of whom are being picked about 30 selections ahead of Newton.
In addition, these projections don't see a lot of risk involved with drafting Newton. The confidence interval on Newton's total points scored is 264.57-329.15. Both his cellar and his ceiling are higher than Luck's and Stafford's, yet Newton is falling all the way to the seventh round. Riddle me that, home slice.
What's the moral of the story here? If you see SuperCam available in the seventh round, you aren't a hard-core late-round-quarterback guy, and you don't have your field general yet, suppress your happy-pittle and snag that puppy. You just got yourself a steal, my friend.