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Cam Newton vs the Other Top Rookie Quarterbacks

Earlier this year, after Cam Newton began the season with consecutive 400 yard passing games, I said that he was one of the top five rookie quarterbacks of the modern era, and the only issue was where he would fall on the list.

Many of you thought I was being rash. Among the comments:

  • He’s played in 2 games. No one will be saying this when he has 32 INTs.
  • He’s looked so much better than I was hoping expecting, but this seems like some $%@# TBL would write, rather than the level-headed Lisk.
  • 2 games in and we’re ready to crown his ass?
  • He’s played 2 games. I think Lisk is a bit premature in writing this article.
  • Two games, and Newton is the second coming of Marino? That’s gotta have Dan flippin’ over in his grave*. (* The NFL Today)
  • Jason Lisk has entered into TBL hyperbole territory with this article. What a shame.
  • 2 games into the season is WAY to early to start making declarations about Cam Newton having the greatest rookie season ever.

In that original piece, I said that Newton was going to finish somewhere in a group that included Dan Marino, Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Ryan and Greg Cook for best rookie season by a quarterback in the Super Bowl era. I did that knowing that Newton had, at the time thrown 4 interceptions (alas, he did not continue that pace, interceptions being the most volatile factor) while Andy Dalton had posted 100+ QB Ratings in his first two starts on far fewer throws.

Now that we are one game away from the end, I think it’s safe to say Cam Newton has safely finished within that top five. Unless people believe QB wins are a valid statistic and that Cam Newton playing with the 7th worst scoring defense while Andy Dalton plays with the 9th best invalidates everything else, Newton is the runaway rookie of the year.

Cam Newton’s passing numbers, at least his astronomical yards per attempt, did regress as should have been expected for anyone. On the other hand, his interception rate improved, and when you consider how frequently he handled the ball either passing or running, his turnover rate was pretty good for a rookie (and ended up in line with Dalton’s). More impressive to me, his sack rate improved to league average. When we consider how much he also ran to avoid sacks, he was above average at avoiding sacks as a rookie, while still completing a decent percentage. He accounted for 34 touchdowns (20 passing, 16 rushing) and the Carolina offense went from dead last to 6th best.

Passing wise, Newton is just below the others, but that doesn’t account for his huge advantage in rushing yards and touchdowns to go with the passing. Here’s a chart where I combined runs with passes and sacks to create a “completion percentage” that consists of [positive runs + pass completions]/[positive runs + pass attempts + sacks], as well as a net yards per play that includes passing yards, rushing yards and sacks, and a touchdown percentage and turnover percentage that accounts for all plays, rushing and passing, and all turnovers, not just interceptions.

 

 

 

Cook played in the 60’s, when success rates were lower and turnovers higher. He had the highest yards per play but also a dramatically higher turnover rate. We’ll kick him to fifth.

After that, Newton is in line with the others in yards per play (if you are curious, Dalton is at 5.95). His success rate is comparable once we account for all the positive running plays. His TD rate is lower than Marino but higher than Roethlisberger and Ryan. His turnover rate is in line with the other three, and actually a shade better.

Then, there is the volume. Cam Newton carried the Panthers on offense, accounting for 645 plays, compared to Roethlisberger, who rode a strong defense to 252 highly efficient plays where he was not expected to carry the load. On a rate stat basis, Newton was just as good as Marino, Roethlisberger, and Ryan, he just was involved in more plays. I know that you can then point to the records (the other three all made the playoffs).

Pittsburgh was 1st in points allowed, Miami was 2nd in points allowed, and Atlanta was 11th. The Panthers this year are 26th in points allowed.

So, if you want to call this the best rookie quarterback season, go ahead. It is certainly in line with the greatest of all-time, and I’m not sure another quarterback carried a team as much as Newton did in getting this team to 6 wins and counting despite the defense.

[photo via Getty]

 

 

 

 

 

 

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