The world has a new greatest football player.
It is not Tom Brady, who is still great, but is getting older and has the mobility of a tortoise. It is not Aaron Rodgers, who looked nearly unstoppable a year ago, but regressed this season. And it is not JJ Watt, who, despite all his talent, can’t carry the Houston Texans past nine wins.
No, the greatest football player on the planet is Cam Newton, and the NFL will never be the same.
It is no secret that Newton has been great this season. He is one win away from his first Super Bowl ring, and on Saturday night he won his first MVP award. But Newton’s dominance over the sport goes beyond this one season. He is doing things that many thought couldn’t be done.
To figure out how Newton went from multiple controversies in college and brooding leader of a Carolina Panthers team in need of direction to the greatest player alive, we first need to step back and look at what NFL teams have tried and failed to do.
Specifically, the NFL has gone through two notable fads in the past decade: mobile quarterbacks and the so-called Wildcat offence. Both hit the NFL with much fanfare but seemed to quickly fade away as flaws were quickly exposed.
Meanwhile, Newton is proving that you can do both and at the same time, but with one important catch: You need to have Superman on your team to pull it off.
Cam Newton is the perfect weapon.
In the NFL, there is a clear advantage that can be had if a team has a mobile quarterback. But as the league quickly learned, there is an inherent danger in having your quarterback running around and taking blows from huge defensive players who are just as fast. Just ask the Washington Redskins and Robert Griffin III.
While there is still a concern that Newton will get hurt, the concern is lessened by his size. Newton is basically a running back, built like a tight end, and playing the quarterback position.
Newton is listed at 6-foot-5 and 245 pounds, but is probably closer to 260 pounds. How big is that? Take a look at Newton standing next to a couple of other great quarterbacks. He makes Rodgers look small and Russell Wilson look tiny.
That size alone allows Newton to do things other quarterbacks can’t do. One of those things is carry five defenders on his back while fighting for a first down.
There are not many running backs who can do that, and none of those running backs can throw the ball like Newton.
In other words, Newton is the perfect football player. He is big and fast and can throw the ball a country mile.
Newton running the Wildcat offence is nearly unstoppable.
In a nutshell, the Wildcat is an offence where a running back or wide receiver replaces the quarterback. The advantage is that by removing the quarterback from the equation on running plays, a team can add an extra blocker. The downside to this is that defences know that almost every play in the Wildcat formation is going to be a running play, and it quickly faded to a gimmick treated more like a trick play.
While “Wildcat” is not a term often mentioned with the Panthers, that is basically what they are doing. Only they are doing it with Newton instead of a true running back or wide receiver.
“This is the ultimate Wildcat offence,” Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman said on ESPN Radio. “It is essentially a 260-pound running back at the quarterback position that plays quarterback like a quarterback.”
In the NFC championship game, Newton scored a touchdown on a designed run out of the shotgun. If this had been a running back taking the snap, this would be called the Wildcat.
But make no mistake, as Aikman said, despite Newton’s label as a quarterback, he is also a running back.
Take a look at the players who have scored the most rushing touchdowns in the NFL over the last five years:
So, while Newton doesn’t throw as many touchdown passes as the other top quarterbacks, he makes up for it on the ground.
Take a look at the quarterbacks who have produced the most touchdowns over the last two seasons combined. Newton trails only Rodgers and Brady, two quarterbacks who have thrown 262 and 148, respectively — more passes than Newton during that stretch:
Newton can sling it from the pocket with the best of them.
What makes Newton special is his size and versatility. But none of that would matter if he couldn’t also play the role of traditional NFL quarterback and throw from the pocket. It is the development of his passing skills that has taken him to a level where no other quarterback can reach right now.
Newton “can hit any spot on the field, from any launch point,” Aikman said on ESPN Radio. “His ability to beat you in the pocket is really, in my opinion, … what has allowed him to take the next step.”
We saw Newton’s passing ability late in the first quarter of the NFC championship game, when he hit Corey Brown deep over the middle. Brown then broke a tackle and scampered to the end zone for an 86-yard touchdown.
While Brown was open and broke the tackle, there are actually a couple of things on this play that show just how good of a passer Newton has become.
The first is the pump fake. Cam doesn’t stare down his receiver giving the safety a chance to cheat. And when he does pump fake, he doesn’t oversell it as many quarterbacks tend to do. The quick pump is enough to put the safety into a spin cycle and allows Newton to quickly recock the arm and hit Brown in stride.
In other words, Brown was wide open thanks to Newton. But Newton wasn’t done, either.
This is a pass 35 yards down the field. Even with the safety biting on the fake, if the pass is floated or is too far behind the receiver, there is still a chance for the defender to recover.
But this isn’t just any quarterback. This is Cam Newton with a cannon for an arm, and he throws this pass 35 yards in the air on a rope. Game over.
That type of arm strength gives Newton a huge advantage over defences and other quarterbacks.
Not only can Newton throw the ball farther than most quarterbacks, thus increasing the amount of real estate the other team must defend, but Newton can throw the ball downfield even if he has not set himself properly. Newton showed this off in the NFC championship game with one pass that got little attention, but may have been his best throw of the game.
Early in the third quarter, Newton saw tight end Greg Olsen break free down the middle. Instead of setting and throwing, something that would have given the safety time to react, Newton threw the ball nearly 35 yards off his back foot.
You can probably count with one hand the number of quarterbacks in the world who can make that pass and none of the others can move like Newton.
But what truly sets Newton apart is the impact he will have on the league moving forward.
In the copycat NFL, most teams are going to turn to quarterbacks like Newton. It might not happen right away, but it will happen, and they can thank the coaches at the pee-wee and high-school levels. In the past, coaches at the lower levels put the best athletes at running back or wide receiver. But coaches got smart and started making sure the ball was in the hands of the best athletes as much as possible, and that meant taking that player and making him the quarterback. That change in thinking is just now starting to filter to the NFL.
So while Newton may seem like an outlier that can’t be replicated, chances are he is just the start of a new wave of all-world athletes who are mobile enough to move, strong enough to throw, and smart enough to thrive. And thanks to Newton, teams won’t be afraid to take a chance.
With the Super Bowl a week away, the big story has been how fans react to Newton, positively and negatively. But while Newton may be the most polarising player in the NFL, let’s not ignore the fact that he is also the greatest football player in the world.
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