Cam Newton's Fantasy Football Appeal With the Patriots Is Well Worth the Risk

Newton is a little hard to project for his first season in New England, but he should be a bit of a no-brainer in fantasy football.

After the Carolina Panthers released longtime quarterback Cam Newton in March, it was only a matter of time before he found a new NFL team.

Yet it took quite a while for the former MVP winner to make it official. He's now a member of the New England Patriots.

The agreement is just a one-year deal that's deemed "incentive-laden" by ESPN's Adam Schefter, and that implies that Newton isn't exactly walking into a Week 1 starting job despite the ostensibly weak quarterback competition.

That's what makes projecting Newton difficult in fantasy football for 2020. So what exactly should we be expecting here?

Newton's Competition

The quarterback room in New England is pretty thin since Tom Brady's departure, and Newton will compete with Jarrett Stidham (primarily) and Brian Hoyer for the top of the depth chart.

With Stidham, we don't have much of a sample to go off of, aside from his collegiate production and a few preseason drop backs. He did average 8.03 yards per attempt in four preseason appearances in 2019, via PFF, but took 9 sacks on 111 drop backs, a sack rate of 8.11%, 11th-highest among 39 preseason passers with at least 50 drop backs.

As for Hoyer, he's had five seasons with at least 100 drop backs in his NFL career but has only once ranked better than 20th in Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back. NEP is numberFire's proprietary metric which takes into account down, distance, and field position to show which players are making the biggest impacts toward their team's scoring chances.

Hoyer's 2016 season ranked him eighth in that passing efficiency metric among passers with at least 100 drop backs. Other than that, he's been a subpar passer for the majority of his NFL career.

Newton, though, in eight seasons with at least 100 drop backs, has just as many top-10 finishes as Hoyer: just the one. Newton ranked 8th in Passing NEP per drop back in 2015 but was still just 17th in Passing Success Rate, the percentage of drop backs that led to positive NEP.

A few things to note here: Newton still has four top-16 seasons in per-play Passing NEP and was actually 10th in Passing Success Rate in 2018, his most recent qualified campaign. That level of consistency would assuredly be welcomed in New England if he can build on a less volatile, steadier passing arsenal.

And, of course, the passing data doesn't account for Newton's rushing.

When we bake that in, Newton had given the Panthers five top-10 seasons in Total NEP. He also most recently finished 14th both in 2017 and 2018 in on-field impact as measured by Total NEP added.

If, then, we can assume Newton is even a top-half producer rather than a top-10 producer like he was earlier in his career, that's still better than what Hoyer has ever shown or what Stidham might be.

He's got a really good shot, naturally, of starting the opener, even though it's not guaranteed.

Projecting Newton

A big problem in projecting Cam's 2020 season is that, yes, he's almost assuredly the quarterback who will start the majority of games for New England, but his one-year deal doesn't inspire a ton of confidence. And unlike any other position in fantasy football, if a quarterback isn't starting, he's not accruing fantasy points.

Sure, maybe they start Stidham and roll out Newton in some packages, but you aren't going to start him at quarterback in that case.

As for trying to pinpoint the projections here, we can do a few things: project him for a full season or project him for a partial season of some sort.

numberFire's projections do view Newton as the QB1 from the start and rank him as the QB10 for the season with a line of 545 attempts, 3,748 yards, and 26.1 passing touchdowns to go along with 86 carries, 392 yards, and 5.1 rushing touchdowns.

If I project Newton for a full year of starting, then he comes in at QB8 for me with a pretty identical line: (537 attempts, 3,765 yards, 24.2 passing touchdowns and 86 carries for 428 yards and 3.5 touchdowns).

However, that's assuming a full 16-game season from Newton and rushing on par with his historical rate. We don't know that he'll run quite that much in a new offense or what his passing efficiency may look like under head coach Bill Belichick.

We also could be looking at an anything-fewer-than-16-game season from Newton.

The Bottom Line

There are plenty of reasons for optimism that point to a starter's workload for Newton.

The biggest risk is that we draft him before New England names a starter and then we find out that they go with Stidham. In that case, we can cut our losses or stash him depending on bench size. He shouldn't command elite draft capital, after all.

So, the way I see it: if Newton is tagged as the Week 1 starter, we're looking at a low-end QB1 in fantasy football formats with rushing upside and the potential that the best coach of all time unleashes him in the optimal way to maximize passing efficiency. If he doesn't show enough to beat out Stidham, then we can do better in single-quarterback leagues anyway. Right?

We should know by draft season what the deal is, and if we don't, Newton's draft cost will be low risk. Unless Newton's average draft position climbs to the early rounds (which seems unlikely), then this is looking like kind of a can't-lose opportunity both for the Patriots and fantasy drafters.