Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Cam Newton's honeymoon period in Carolina is officially over.
Welcome to the hot seat, young fella.
After wowing us all with a rookie season for the ages in 2011, critics have ripped Newton apart during his sophomore campaign. The Panthers' hometown newspaper, the Charlotte Observer, was especially cruel to Newton, depicting him in a "Hello Kitty" outfit following a difficult loss to the New York Giants three weeks ago.
Even teammates have been lashing out at the talented 23-year-old, specifically veteran wide receiver Steve Smith, who yelled at Newton for sulking on the sidelines after another tough outing.
Newton wouldn't be the first quarterback to flame out after finding success as a rookie. Just like Newton, Vince Young followed up a brilliant college career by winning NFL Rookie of the Year honors with the Tennessee Titans.
That was in 2006. This year, Young couldn't even carve out a spot as a backup on the underachieving Buffalo Bills. He was cut before the end of training camp.
Will Newton, who has seen his quarterback rating slip to an unimpressive 80.9 over the past few weeks, endure a similar fate?
Personally, I think Newton's supposed "decline" is overblown. But we'll get to that in a minute.
For fantasy owners who gambled by taking the former Heisman winner among the first five picks in this year's fantasy draft, what were you really expecting from Newton? Fifty touchdown passes? Five thousand yards through the air?
The truth is, we misjudged Newton. Most of us wrongly assumed that because Newton finished third in fantasy points a year ago, he was an elite passer.
You're crazy if you think Newton racked up all those fantasy points with his arm. He did most of the damage with his legs.
Take away Newton's 700 yards rushing and his 14 rushing touchdowns and there's nothing special about him.
Last year, Newton's quarterback rating was the league's 15th-best and though his 4,051 yards passing was a rookie record, reaching 4,000 yards isn't the sacred milestone that it used to be. Buffalo's Ryan Fitzpatrick finished just shy of the 4,000-yard plateau last season and I don't think anyone would consider him an elite quarterback.
Forgive Newton for not averaging 300 passing yards per game. Newton's passing game is far more developed than Michael Vick's, but at his core, he's still a scrambler.
As for his "slow start," Newton really hasn't performed much worse than he did a year ago when we were still singing his praises. His quarterback rating through five games is only 3 1/2 points lower than it was at this point last season (84.3 versus 80.9). His interception totals are nearly the same (five this year compared to six at this point last season) and Newton's completion percentage is actually slightly higher than it was at this stage of the 2011 campaign (60.0 versus 58.2).
From a rushing standpoint, Newton has been much more efficient this season. Newton has racked up 209 yards on 40 carries this year for an average of 5.2 yards per rush. Though Newton had four rushing touchdowns at this point last season compared to just three this year, he totaled almost 50 fewer yards while receiving the same number of carries. Among quarterbacks, only Washington's Robert Griffin III has scrambled for more yards than Newton in 2012.
The major disparity in Newton's stats this season compared to his 2011 numbers comes in his passing yardage. Newton is far below his 2011 pace in the yards department (he had 1,610 through five games a year ago compared to only 1,154 this season) but that's because he's thrown fewer passes this year than he did as a rookie. After five games last season, Newton had already heaved up 194 throws. After five contests this season, Newton has only 136 passing attempts.
Newton also has been sacked more often in 2012 (13 sacks versus nine at this juncture last season), but that burden certainly doesn't fall on Newton alone. Clearly, Carolina's offensive line needs to do a better job of protecting its quarterback.
Newton's overall point average in fantasy has decreased from 22 per contest last season to 16.6 a game during the 2012 campaign. It's a noticeable drop in production, but it hasn't kept Newton out of the Top 10 in total points scored. Despite his struggles, only seven quarterbacks have earned more fantasy points than Newton this season.
Critics will be quick to point out that Carolina has only one win with Newton under center this year. That may be true but after five games, the Panthers have the same exact record they had at this time last season.
Three of those four losses have been by a combined 12 points, so it's not as though Carolina is getting blown out on a weekly basis. The only difference is that Newton was being lauded for his performance last season and now he's being criticized.
Newton will never put up Drew Brees numbers, but we never should have expected him to. He's a totally different player. Newton is a tremendous athlete, but as a passer, he is still developing.
Plus, Newton doesn't have the same weapons at his disposal as Brees. The New Orleans Saints star has Marques Colston, Jimmy Graham, Darren Sproles and Lance Moore to throw to; Carolina's best receiver is 33 years old.
How much is good enough for you greedy fantasy owners? Give the kid a break. Whether Cam has met our lofty expectations or not, he's still one of the best players in fantasy football.
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