From the Plains to the pros: Cam Newton

rblack@ledger-enquirer.comJune 28, 2014 

Editor's note: Auburn has a rich history of sending players to the NFL. With that in mind, beat writer Ryan Black takes a look at each former Tiger that finds himself on an NFL roster (or should be once free agency and training camps shake out). The series will begin with those who have already been in the league for more than one season and conclude with the latest crop of players to land in the NFL, either through the draft or as an undrafted free agent.

Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers

Position: Quarterback

Drafted: Taken with the No. 1 overall pick by the Panthers in 2011

Career stats (through three seasons): 48 played (all starts) ; 25-23 record in games started; completed 59.8 percent of pass attempts (882 of 1,475); 11,299 passing yards, 64 touchdowns, 42 interceptions; Rushing: 2,032 yards and 28 touchdowns on 364 carries (5.6 yards per carry); Pro Bowler in 2011 and 2013; 2011 Associated Press offensive rookie of the year

2014 outlook: Big, big things are expected of Newton this season. Of course, dealing with those kinds of expectations are nothing new for the two-time Pro Bowler and former Heisman Trophy winner. And it's not just those with Carolina ties who feel that way. As noted by the aptly-named Panthers beat writer for ESPN.com, David Newton (no relation) on Thursday, the quarterback is quickly gaining admirers across the NFL. In the NFL Network's countdown of the top 100 players in the league — voted on by fellow players — Newton came in at No. 24, a 22-spot improvement from last year. That's ahead of a pair of other highly-touted signal-callers in Andrew Luck of Indianapolis (voted No. 30) and Colin Kaepernick of San Francisco (No. 81).

(Side note: Kaepernick's ranking seems shockingly low for a quarterback who owns a 17-6 record as a starter in the regular season, a 4-2 mark in the playoffs, not to mention leading the team to a Super Bowl berth two years ago and an NFC championship game appearance last season. But I digress.)

Given his past, it's crazy to doubt Newton. He's shown he's capable of just about anything on the field. But his own team has hamstrung him to an extent. The Panthers let their top four receivers from 2013 (Steve Smith, Brandon LaFell, Ted Ginn and Domenik Hixon) find new teams during the offseason. Eric Edholm of Yahoo Sports did the math: "That's a combined 156 receptions, 1,983 yards and 15 touchdowns. That represents 53.4 percent (receptions), 58.7 percent (receiving yards) and 62.5 percent (TD passes) of Cam Newton's 2013 production. Those receivers also combined for all but 55 yards and four catches of the receiving production in the playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers."

That quartet has been replaced by a rookie (first-round pick Kelvin Benjamin), a pair of players picked off the scrap heap (Jason Avant and Tiquan Underwood) and a guy who actually had a pretty decent season last year (Jerricho Cotchery caught 46 passes for 602 yards and a career-high 10 touchdowns for Pittsburgh). Still, after winning the NFC South and hosting a playoff game last year, people aren't going to cut the Panthers — and by extension, Newton — any slack this fall.

Anything less than a playoff berth would qualify as a disappointment.

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