Against the Grain: Why Cam Newton should not be in MVP discussion
Cam-Mania has to stop.
Cam Newton proponents are going too far with their praise of him. It seems like everyone has an opinion about the Panthers QB, and the true story of Newton’s season seems to get lost in all of that noise. Make no mistake: he is a good quarterback, particularly in the fourth quarter, on a very good team—that’s been blessed with a soft schedule (23rd hardest in the NFL). He's made big plays this season and come through in crucial moments, and he is certainly a big part of why they're winning. But unless we’re willing to completely reshape how we think about the award, Newton is not a bona fide MVP candidate.
Numbers don't tell the whole story, but they're also impossible to ignore when it comes to choosing the league's MVP. And in this case, the mediocrity of Newton’s passing numbers are undeniable. He ranks 27th among starters with an 81.4 passer rating and 24th in ESPN’s QBR; his 53.4 completion percentage is lowest among regular starters and he’s tied for 6th in the NFL with nine interceptions. Even his rushing stats are a bit down this year at a career-low 4.7 yards per carry.
On the positive side of the ledger, his passer rating increases to 100.2 in the fourth quarter, which sounds gaudy, but still ranks 12th, behind the likes of Josh McCown, Brian Hoyer and Brandon Weeden. He's also had success throwing deep—he’s tied for 11th with 34 completions over 20 yards or over—and he leads all QBs with 343 running yards.
But even those statistical successes don’t come close to placing him in MVP category. In the last 10 years, a quarterback has won the award eight times, and every season, that quarterback’s numbers were statistically overwhelming. Here is a chart from STATs Inc. comparing Newton's projected numbers to the group of eight MVP QBs:
The lowest completion percentage in the group was Aaron Rodgers at 65.6 last season and the lowest passer rating was 95.0. Newton runs more, but the difference isn’t enough to offset the difference in his aerial production.
We’ve never ignored stats before in the MVP conversation. Why would we now? Some Cam-fans argue that critics don’t like Newton’s big personality—the first-down signals after a scramble, the Superman pose, the smiling. So they’re asking detractors to ignore all that and the controversy that goes back to his college days and just focus on what he’s doing on the field. There’s one easy way to do that .... look at his numbers! The stat sheet doesn’t care what pose a quarterback makes in the end zone or what allegedly happened in college. And the numbers still show that Newton is not an MVP-caliber QB.
Cam-backers also point to the lack of weapons. Panthers starting receivers Ted Ginn Jr. and Philly Brown might not crack many starting lineups around the league. Overall, his targets rank 8th in the NFL with 15 drops. But lack of weapons has never been a factor for other MVP-caliber QBs. Brady, Peyton Manning and Rodgers make their receivers much better. Almost any pass-catcher that plays with them and leaves via free agency is a bust. Newton isn’t accurate enough to make his receivers better.
The ultimate pro-Cam argument is the Panthers’ 8–0 record. Newton is the perfect example of the quarterback who gets too much credit for wins and too much blame for losses. We have to spread the credit around, starting with defensive players like linebackers Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis, defensive tackle Kawann Short (NFC Defensive Player of the Month in October) and cornerback Josh Norman. Let those four split the MVP award, and you’d have a more accurate reflection of why the Panthers are undefeated.
Carolina is going to continue to win. Only three of its last eight games are against winning teams—the 5–4 Giants and two matchups with the 6–3 Falcons. With their win over Green Bay, the Panthers have an excellent chance to gain home field throughout the NFC playoffs. And as they close in an impressive regular-season record, the hype around Newton will grow and MVP chants will get louder.
It's an exciting time in Charlotte and fans should enjoy it. But that doesn’t mean we should alter the way we view quarterbacks. Newton has performed well on the field this and he might get better statistically in the second half. But numbers don’t lie, and we’d all be disingenuous if we gave him serious consideration for MVP at this point of the season.