After doing a couple mock drafts, I began to notice that Cam Newton was beginning to fall into the 8th and 9th rounds on many occasions. At first, I followed the logical groupthink: he’s lost his entire receiving core, including Steve Smith, Cam Newton’s rock at wide receiver during his young career. And the replacements? Jerricho Cotchery? Jason Avant? Rookie Kelvin Benjamin? Without analyzing the situation, I began to accept those as reasonable ADPs for Cam Newton, a man who has never finished outside the Top 4 in quarterback scoring.
But then I began to think…exactly how good have his receivers been during his career? Have they made much of a difference? What percentage of his value comes from his rushing? If not much has changed for Cam’s 2014 outlook, then why is his ADP so incongruent with the past? Could it be the increasing popularity of the Late Round Quarterback approach?
Cam Newton's ADP
Year ADP Previous Year's QB Fantasy Finish
2012 2.04 3rd
2013 5.02 4th
2014 7.09 3rd
I included the previous seasons’ ADP to provide context for where he is being drafted. More specifically, the last time Newton finished as QB3, he was being drafted in the 2nd round the following summer. But after finishing as QB3 again in 2013, his 2014 ADP is at the end of the 7th. After seeing this huge difference in ADP, I decided to launch a personal investigation of the fantasy phenomenon that is Cam Newton:
Why The Panthers 2014 Wide Receivers Probably Cannot Be Worse Than 2011-13
Panthers WRs Who Played > 25% Of Snaps, 2011-2013
Player Year Age G Rec Rec Yds Y/R Rec TD Y/G AYA
Brandon LaFell 2011 25 16 36 613 17.03 3 38.3 10.41
Legedu Naanee 2011 28 15 44 467 10.61 1 31.1 4.04
Steve Smith 2011 32 16 79 1394 17.65 7 87.1 9.79
Louis Murphy 2012 25 16 25 336 13.44 1 21 5.10
Brandon LaFell 2012 26 14 44 677 15.39 4 48.4 7.53
Steve Smith 2012 33 16 73 1174 16.08 4 73.4 8.06
Ted Ginn 2013 28 16 36 556 15.44 5 34.8 8.32
Brandon LaFell 2013 27 16 49 627 12.8 5 39.2 6.35
Steve Smith 2013 34 15 64 745 11.64 4 49.7 5.86
Save for some solid Steve Smith production, this is a pretty miserable bunch of players and statistics. No Cam Newton receiver has ever caught 80 passes in a season, and no wideout besides Smith has posted more than 677 yards. Only once has Newton had a wide receiver catch more than five touchdowns in a season.
I also took a look at Cam’s efficiency using the RotoViz AYA App, and the results were very telling. First of all, the severe decline in Steve Smith’s efficiency from 2011 to 2013 is immediately noticeable. So is Legedu Naanee’s mind-numbing awfulness. We knew Brandon LaFell wasn’t anything special. In fact, Newton hasn’t had a qualifying receiver with an AYA over 8.32 since his rookie year, yet he keeps pumping out quality fantasy seasons.
To give another metric, the only one besides Smith to post positive receiving rating by Pro Football Focus in any of these seasons was Ted Ginn. Think about that for a second: you potentially could argue the second best receiver Cam Newton has ever had was Ted Ginn.
Needless to say, this production shouldn’t be too hard to at least approach.
Cam Newton’s Passing: Average to Below Average Volume, Production and Efficiency
Cam Newton's Career Passing Statistics
Year Age G Cmp (QB Rank) Att (QB Rank) Cmp% (QB Rank) Yds (QB Rank) TD (QB Rank) Int (QB Rank) Y/A (QB Rank)
Average 16 294 (21st) 491.67 (16th) 59.8 (23rd) 3766.33 (13th) 21.33 (15th) 14 (12th) 7.63 (10th)
2011 22 16 310 (14th) 517 (13th) 60 (22nd) 4051 (10th) 21 (11th) 17 (6th) 7.8 (10th)
2012 23 16 280 (22nd) 485 (19th) 57.7 (30th) 3869 (13th) 19 (21st) 12 (17th) 8 (3rd)
2013 24 16 292 (26th) 473 (17th) 61.7 (16th) 3379 (15th) 24 (12th) 13 (12th) 7.1 (17th)
Not only does he not get volume (never been top 12 in pass attempts, average of 16th), he isn’t even terribly efficient with the middling amount of attempts he does get (23rd in completion percentage and 10th in yards/attempt). He doesn’t really pass for that many yards (one top 10 finish, average of 13th) or passing touchdowns (never Top 10, average of 15th).
In other words, besides yards per attempt, he falls short of QB1 qualification (Top 12) in any measure of volume or direct fantasy relevance. Clearly, it is not his passing ability or volume that makes him so valuable to fantasy owners.
In fact, the Panthers have finished just 18th in the NFL in scoring the past two seasons. Looking at just passing and overall scoring, Cam Newton screams “middle of the pack.” To be fair to the Panthers WRs, there is little doubt Cam’s unpolished passing skills have a lot to do with his wide receivers’ lack of success and his own lack of volume. It doesn’t excuse Legedu Naanee being a semi-prominent part of an NFL offense, but I digress.
The Obvious Difference-Maker: Cam’s Rushing Prowess
Cam Newton's Career Rushing Statistics
Year Age G Market Share of CAR Rush TDs Att (QB Rank) Yds (QB Rank) TD (QB Rank)
Average 16 45% 121.33 (1st) 677.33 (1st) 9.33 (1st)
2011 22 16 54% 126 (1st) 706 (1st) 14 (1st)
2012 23 16 38% 127 (1st) 741 (2nd) 8 (1st)
2013 24 16 43% 111 (1st) 587 (1st) 6 (1st)
Since he came into the league, Cam Newton has finished 1st in every major rushing category among QBs in every one of his seasons except for 2012 rushing yards (Robert Griffin III). Herein lies the key for fantasy owners.
His touchdown statistics prove he’s been the premier goal-line option his entire career: 50% of career rush TDs have come from inside the 3, and 79 percent have come from inside the 10. He’s finished 1st in rush TDs on his team every year of his career. This rushing consistency is where his robustness comes from: he is not overly reliant on wide receiver talent for his fantasy production.
The Return of Greg Olsen and Cam’s Other Weapons
Remember, so far I have only talked about Panthers wide receivers. Tight end Greg Olsen has lead the team in touchdown catches two years in a row, and was 2nd on the team in that category during Cam’s rookie year. For the past two seasons, he’s had at least 816 yards. Remember: no other wide receiver besides Steve Smith has gone over 677. Olsen is still a Panther and will likely take on even a heavier workload.
But what about their new wideouts? Jerricho Cotchery finished 25th in the Pro Football Focus wide receiver rankings in 2013. This would be the 4th highest finish ever for a Cam Newton wideout. He put up a 46-607-10 line on only 74 targets. By comparison, 2013 Steve Smith did 65-745-4 on 103 targets as the Panthers’ top WR, and Cam Newton still finished as QB3. Not exactly a huge gap in efficiency there.
Kelvin Benjamin has been analyzed to death on Rotoviz, but to just match Cam’s average No. 2 WR performance, he needs to do 40-50 catches, 500-700 yards and 3-5 touchdowns. Is that not doable? In fact, it’s not impossible he even slightly outdoes those numbers, especially in the touchdown department.
Whichever journeyman out of Tiquan Underwood and Jason Avant wins the number-three wide receiver battle has to perform even less to match Cam’s usual No. 3 WR production.
When talking about Cam Newton’s projection for 2014 in the context of his career up to this point, we need to ask ourselves the following questions:
- How likely are the Panthers to be at least simply average (which has netted Newton a QB4 finish in 2012 and QB3 finish in 2013) in the NFL at offensive scoring? I’d say that is very likely.
- How likely are Cam Newton’s new receivers to perform significantly worse than his old ones? Considering he’s had about 1.5 years of a good Steve Smith and sincerely pathetic secondary wideouts, I’d say the new ones cannot be much of a downgrade.
- How likely is Cam Newton to continue being at least slightly below average to average as a passer? I’d say incredibly likely. Dare I say it is even possible he improves? He made significant strides in TD:INT ratio in 2013.
- How likely is he to lose goal-line scoring in the Panthers offense? There is no evidence of that being the case whatsoever, or the offense changing at all for that matter.
In fact, you could argue that 2012 and 2013 could be close to Cam Newton’s floor. What if the offense shoots into the Top 10 once again (like in his rookie year) and his receivers prove to be an upgrade over his old supporting cast? What if he makes any significant improvement as a passer? It’s not terribly likely, but it is definitely within the reasonable range of possibilities.
Conclusion for 2014
At his current ADP of QB10 in the late 7th round, he’s a bona fide steal-the type of pick that could win you a fantasy league. He is occasionally being drafted behind guys like Matt Ryan and Tom Brady.
Cam Newton is robust. He has shown not a lot has to go right for him to be an elite fantasy quarterback. Because of his consistent rushing dominance, his pass catchers have proven to be nearly irrelevant to his fantasy value unlike guys like Ryan and Brady. Even Tom Terrific and Matty Ice have shown they need their offensive weapons healthy to be Top 5 fantasy quarterbacks. Cam’s not only proven that’s his upside, he’s proven it may even be his floor.Asher Molk, along with being a regular contributor to the Apex Insider Blog and The Fake Football, helps Mike Braude run Apex Fantasy Football Money Leagues – their solution to the randomness and luck-based formats of most public money leagues.