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Cam Newton not only Auburn alum to have impact 2015 season in NFL

Michael Niziolek

mniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) celebrates his touchdown run against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the second half of an NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday, Jan. 3, 2016.
Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) celebrates his touchdown run against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the second half of an NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday, Jan. 3, 2016. AP Photo

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton led his team to a 15-1 record and first round bye while dabbing his way to MVP-like numbers.

Newton finished the regular season with 3,837 yards and a career-high 35 passing touchdowns with 10 more on the ground. He led all quarterbacks with 636 yard rushing (4.8 yards per carry).

The former Heisman Trophy winner is the first NFL player to throw for 30 touchdowns and rush for 10 in a single season. His 45 total touchdowns were the most in the league.

Newton’s season continues next week when the Panthers host Seattle in the Divisional Round of the playoffs.

While Newton certainly stands out among the Auburn alum, he wasn’t the only former Tiger to have an impact in the NFL this season.

Making his mark

Quan Bray didn’t make the Indianapolis Colts roster out of fall camp, but made the most of a midseason call up from the practice squad.

Bray finished sixth in the NFL with a kickoff return average of 27.1 yards (21 returns, 570 yards). He had a season-long 60-yard return in a 45-10 loss to Pittsburgh.

The former Auburn wide receiver also returned 21 punts for 166 yards (7.9 average).

His performance in a 16-10 lost to Houston earned him high praise from coach Chuck Pagano.

"He gave us great returns,” Pagano said of Bray’s 147 all-purpose yards. “He gave us great energy. He lifted this whole team, literally, by himself for a period of time there. Just a fantastic job by him."

Powerful statement

Arizona coaches didn’t worry when pro bowl defensive back Antonio Cromartie left in free agency with Jerraud Powers waiting in the wings.

“That was easy,” Arizona coach Bruce Arians said before the season. “He probably played better in pass coverage than Cro did and he’s a better tackler.”

Powers battled injuries in 2015, but played well to help Arizona win the NFC West with a 13-3 record. He missed two games with an injured hamstring in late October then injured his calf in December.

The self-described “under-the-radar” type had 52 tackles (46 solo) with nine pass deflections, a sack, interception and fumble return for a touchdown.

Powers signed with Arizona during the 2013 free agency period. He was drafted by the Cardinals in the third round of the 2009 NFL Draft.

Still going strong

The Cleveland Browns had another forgettable season, but it wasn’t for the lack of effort from veteran linebacker Karlos Dansby.

Dansby had a team-leading 108 tackles (62 solo), three sacks, three interceptions with two pick-sixes and a pair of forced fumbles.

The 34 year old with 12 years of NFL experience started all 16 games for the sixth time in his career. He is currently the only player in the NFL with at least 40 sacks and 15 interceptions. One more interception will make him the fifth player in NFL history with 40 sacks and 20 interceptions.

Dansby’s strong season didn’t go unnoticed by his teammates.

"When you see guys that work hard, put in the effort, been doing it for a long time, when Karlos has a day like that and a couple of the other vets, it just helps everybody, it raises everybody's spirits," Browns linebacker Paul Kruger said Dansby’s performance against Denver. "You need your key guys to make those plays and it just elevates everybody's game, so it was big."

Growing pains

St. Louis offensive line coach Paul Boudreau believes Greg Robinson has the potential to be a “great player,” but the second overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft struggled during his second season.

"He's making progress from the standpoint of knowing exactly what to do, but how to do it has been a little inconsistent here as of late," St. Louis coach Jeff Fisher said in November.

One of the main issues for the 6-foot-5, 330-plus pound left tackle is penalties. Opposing teams accepted 13 of 16 flags thrown against Robinson in 2015 and 11 of them were holding calls.

In ranking all 32 offensive lines midway through the season, ProFootballFocus.com, called Robinson a “dud” in ranking the Rams line 27th in the league.

Robinson still started all 16 games for the Rams to give him 28 starts in 32 career games.

Quick Hits

* Dee Ford; LB (Chiefs) — Ford had 23 tackles and four sacks with three of them coming in a 10-3 win over Kansas City in week 14.

* Cameron Artis-Payne; RB (Panthers) — Payne finished the season with 183 yards and a touchdown playing in seven games. He also caught five passes for 58 yards.

* Angelo Blackson; DL (Titans) — The rookie played in all 16 games for the Titans totaling 15 tackles, 2.5 sacks and a forced fumble.

* Nick Fairley; DL (Rams) — Fairley had 29 tackles and half a sack in his first season with St. Louis.

* Tre Mason; RB (Rams) — Todd Gurley’s backup had 207 yards rushing with a touchdown and 88 receiving yards.

* Neiko Thorpe; DB (Raiders) — Thorpe had 40 tackles (37 solo) with six pass breakups and interception.

* Robenson Therezie; DB (Falcons) — The undrafted rookie Therezie had 33 tackles (27 solo) with an interception. He earned a game ball for forcing the turnover to seal a win over Tennessee.

* Jay Prosch (FB, Houston Texans) — Prosch doesn’t get called on to run the ball often (six carries for 33 yards on the season), but is a key piece as lead blocker in the team’s running game. He also had nine tackles playing special teams.

* Nick Marshall; DB (Jaguars) — Marshall started Jacksonville’s season finale at defensive back. He finished the season with 13 tackles and returned 13 kicks for 346 yards.

Michael Niziolek covers Auburn football for the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer. Email him at mniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com or follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Google+

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