Is Cam Newton a Franchise Quarterback?

There's no denying that Cam showed what he can do in Week 14, but is he really one of the best quarterbacks in the league?

After demolishing the New Orleans Saints in their home dome, nobody can argue Cam Newton's singe-game ceiling. But with disappointing games mixed with elite games, Newton has become a polarizing player.

Carolina's struggles haven't helped matters.

Despite seeing just how good he can be in a game, it's fair to question whether he really is one of the league's elite quarterbacks, especially given that few things can hinder a promising team quite like a quarterback who is good but not obviously good enough to get them all the way. Just ask the Cowboys, Bengals, or Eagles.

To do so, I'll be looking mostly at Net Expected Points (NEP), which is how we at numberFire analyze things. NEP indicates how many points above or below expectation a player is adding to his team.

The Early Days

Cam's rookie year was stellar, but it turned out not necessarily to be a sign of things to come. According to the metrics, his rookie season was his best in terms of passing and overall impact on the Panthers' offense when compared to other quarterbacks. Here are Cam's relevant NEP scores and ranks compared to the 32 quarterbacks with the most drop backs in the given season - to make rankings consistent and digestible.

YearPassesPass NEPPass NEP/Drop BackSuccess RateTotal NEP
2011553 (13)57.48 (11)0.10 (12)46.474% (14)110.21 (6)
2012521 (19)64.95 (12)0.12 (12)45.68% (16)112.10 (8)
2013516 (17)37.3 (15)0.07 (16)45.16% (19)83.55 (8)

In terms of passing metrics, only 2011 saw Cam post above-average scores in each of those categories (Passing NEP, Passing NEP per drop back, and Success Rate), and it was his best season in terms of Success Rate, which indicates how many of his drop backs led to positive expected points gains for the Panthers' total. It has declined each season since.

2012, though, was his most successful season in terms of cumulative point gain, adding 64.95 points above expectation with his drop backs, and in efficiency, it was his best season of the three in points per drop back.

Those are some middling passing numbers. And anybody and everybody knows that Cam has been bad this year, but how does he fare in 2014?

Cam's 2014

Through Week 13, Cam Newton had a negative Passing NEP, accumulating -1.87 points through 12 games. By definition, that's below expectation, but there's a difference between "expectation" and "average."

Here's how Cam fares this year among the 32 most voluminous quarterbacks through Week 13 - as Week 14 isn't yet concluded.

YearPassesPass NEPPer Drop BackSuccess RateTotal NEP
2014405 (17)-1.87 (28)0.00 (28)45.19% (24)16.17 (24)

Without a doubt, it hasn't been pretty. And not even the rushing has been there to give him much of a boost in Total NEP. Sure, he has been banged up, and nobody can fault him for that, but coupled with his non-elite passing earlier in his career, things are bleak.

So what does he do in Week 14 after some truly dreadful metrics? Goes berserk, of course, in classic Cam fashion, finishing the day 21-of-33 for 226 yards, and 3 touchdowns to go along with 83 rushing yards and a score. In NEP terms, he added about 20 points to his Total NEP, which would jump him up to about 17th before accounting for other quarterback play this week.

But with basically average passing metrics in two consecutive seasons, it's a fair question to ask whether he truly is one of the league's elite - despite his ceiling.

Is It Enough?

It depends on what the question is, really. Is he good enough to win a Super Bowl? Yes. With the right team composition, nearly any quarterback who is competent can win a Super Bowl, and I'm not just being dismissive. Here are the eight quarterbacks who made the conference championships in the past two years and their relevant passing metrics.

YearPlayerPassing NEPPass NEP/Drop backSuccess RateTotal NEP
2013Peyton Manning278.520.4157.31%262.88
2012Tom Brady186.790.2854.44%196.19
2012Matt Ryan159.840.2553.97%169.09
2013Colin Kaepernick74.660.1744.18%88.67
2013Tom Brady68.710.1047.08%64.71
2013Russell Wilson62.060.1446.56%96.85
2012Colin Kaepernick40.500.1747.44%57.01
2012Joe Flacco26.200.0542.93%25.13

As you know, the bottom three made the Super Bowl, and two of them won. Cam surely can outperform those numbers, and he has done so in the past.

In the larger context, of giving his team a legitimate shot year after year, Cam really seems able to do that, too. Only three quarterbacks have posted a Total NEP greater than 80.00 in each of the three years from 2011-2013: Cam, Aaron Rodgers, and Drew Brees. Only six others have done it at least twice.

It's obvious that Newton's passing is a detriment, and unless he turns things around, he'll never be an elite passer. But as far as it goes for total impact, Cam - so long as this injury-plagued 2014 campaign is an anomaly - is consistently a top-10 quarterback in the league. And if he's healthy next year, he'll be able to remind us all of just that.