Cam Newton was drafted with the top pick of the 2011 NFL Draft by the Carolina Panthers, fresh off a national championship and Heisman Trophy at Auburn University. He was supposed to become the next superstar quarterback, helping to bring a struggling franchise out of the shadows with his freakish athletic ability and leadership qualities.
Instead, Newton is 27-31-1 in three-plus years and has led the Panthers to just one playoff appearance, losing in last year’s NFC Divisional Playoff game against the San Francisco 49ers. Newton, 25, has been surrounded by decent talent throughout his tenure, much better than the men around fellow top-pick Andrew Luck in Indianapolis. Still, Newton has not been able to lift those around him like Luck has, leading to middling play and groaning fans.
Newton has a bevy of problems, chief among them accuracy. In a day and age when most average quarterbacks can complete 63-65 percent of their passes, Newton has never topped 61.7 percent. In 2014, Newton has suffered through regression, completing a career-low 57.9 percent of throws with 13 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Granted, Newton’s receivers will not remind anybody of Jerry Rice and Lance Alworth, but a good carpenter never blames his tools.
Another issue with Newton, who signed a four-year, $22 million deal as a rookie, is his penchant for throwing avoidable interceptions. At times, Newton throws caution to the wind and hopes to fit passes into impossibly tight spaces. Turnovers happen, but Newton doesn’t balance them out with enough productive plays. In his career, Newton has never eclipsed 24 touchdowns, 4,100 yards or a passer rating of 90.0.
The most distressing issue for Newton is the lack of progress in the win-loss department. Why are the Panthers not running away with the NFC South, a division that is led by the horrific 5-7 Atlanta Falcons? Carolina started out 2-0 (winning the first game over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with Derek Anderson) but has become one of the worst teams in football, going 1-8-1 since.
Carolina went 12-4 last season and took the division crown before losing key pieces such as Steve Smith, Ted Ginn Jr., Mike Mitchell and Ryan Kalil in the offseason. A few steps back could be understood, but going less than 8-8 with a manageable schedule is unacceptable. Newton is the leader and deserves the scrutiny that comes with such a collapse.
It is fair to wonder if Newton as the long-term solution under center. Four years in, we all have a pretty good idea of what Newton will be in the foreseeable future. From this vantage point, he appears to be an athlete first and quarterback second, destined to become another Daunte Culpepper.
Newton broke into the NFL with bushels of promise and potential. Four years later, Panthers fans are still waiting for returns worth remembering.