NFL Network's Dave Dameshek actually, finally made some sense for once and lifted himself out of the role I had slotted him into since I knew the man existed - that of the network's clown.
More on that in a moment.
As we now know, Cam Newton jumped in the rankings all the way up to #24 overall in the NFL Network's annual off-season "Top 100" - as ranked by NFL players themselves.
First off, Cam was ranked #46 last season while having slightly better overall stats in 2012 than he did last season. So why the jump?
A lot of it can be contributed to the team's NFC South Divisional title. Nobody (or very, very few at best) had the Panthers winning the division before the season started, let alone vaulting to a 12-4 record. Much of the improvement in the win/loss record is due to the vastly improved, attacking and dominating defense running the Tampa-2 scheme.
I also think Cam gets a bit of "extra credit" for his durability and the fact he has done what he's done with an aging Steve Smith and little else to help him in the passing game. This off-season's moves by Dave "Skype" Gettleman really underscores this, since the team this year will have no WRs that had a single reception for Carolina last season.
In fact, for a couple of weeks there, Tavarres King and Marvin McNutt were short-lived Panthers "celebrities" as they, at that time, were the two highest remaining receivers on the depth chart.
Of course, this was before the now-usual "free agent WRs on-the-cheap" strategy Gettleman has employed and after the unceremonious departure of longtime Panther and fan favorite, Steve Smith.
I don't want to dwell on receivers, but want to point out 1-year Panthers like Ted Ginn, Jr.and Domenik Hixon have been replaced by Jason Avant and Tiquan Underwood. MAJOR yawner on the surface, but Jerricho Cotchery brings his best pro season to date from last year to the team and we all know of Kelvin Benjamin's being drafted, so there is some hope for some upside at the position this year after all.
Cam's 2013 season was actually an improvement in many statistical categories from 2012, which improved from 2011. His QBR (quarterback rating) has increased in each of his first three seasons....from 84.5 as a rookie to 86.2 to 88.8 last season.
He had fewer yards passing (3,379 last year, down from 3,869 in '12) AND fewer rushing yards (585 down from 741) while averaging only 5.3 yards/carry vs. 5.8 the previous one.
2013 saw Cam take more sacks than 2012 (43 in '13 up from 36 in '12) while "explosive pass plays" (plays of 20+ yards) have decreased each year, going from 65 as a rookie to 57 way down to only 33 last season.
In fact, Cam's sacks have increased each year while his explosive plays have decreased each year from his then-record setting rookie campaign. His yards/attempt was at a career low last year as well.
I do think what's being somewhat overlooked by fans but what players noticed on the field was Cam's leap in maturity as a quarterback and as an individual in general.
Putting the team's 12-4 record aside and simply looking at the overall stats, it would appear Cam is not improving but nothing could be further from the truth.
For instance, his completion percentage went up to 61.7% from 57.7 during his so-called "sophomore slump" season....you know, the season where he set a franchise record for consecutive attempts without throwing an interception? Yeah....THAT "slump."
I think the players took into account the fact Steve Smith had obviously lost a step since Cam's rookie season, but remains a viable possession-style receiver with the ability to break tackles in the open field....for the Baltimore Ravens this year, and that's another reason for Cam's rising in the rankings.
NFL players know it takes time to develop "chemistry" between a QB and his WRs. No less than Tom Brady showed us that much last season. Despite the influx of new-to-him WRs, Cam's interceptions thrown increased only from 12 in 2012 to 13 in 2013 while his TDs went from 19 to 25. Add that to his career-high in completion percentage and his improvement in efficiency becomes doubly surprising.
So, I think his improvement in the rankings by his fellow NFL players shows that his peers see him as still on the rise despite issues with working with so many new WRs and not to mention the problems on the offensive line. Of course, there's always his elusiveness, size, strength and good speed for such a large man but everyone knew that from day one.
What so few people know is that Newton had four 4th-quarter, game-winning drives in 2013. Had he not had any, the team would have finished 8-8.
Any NFL player will say a 4-game swing is HUGE...and Cam was "swinging" in the right direction.
As for Dave Dameshek, he correctly pointed out that Cam Newton IS the "pioneer" for the new-era dual-threat QBs like Robert Griffin III and Andrew Luck, both of whom he ranked higher than this year. Luck's size and speed are very much similar with Cam's; he simply doesn't do all that much running in his offense. While other QBs have been dual-threats like Randall Cunningham and Michael Vick, Cunningham largely ran for his life while Vick wasn't the passer Cam was early in his career and after his prison stint for dogfighting, he hasn't been able to stay healthy and can be a turnover machine.
I've only been familiar with the seemingly inherently-doofuslike Dameshek, along with his annoying voice, from his interesting if a bit silly and fantastical N-"if"-L series, but give the guy credit for hitting this one right on the mark....and moves, for now, the "clown" sobriquet to Adam Rank who specializes in comparing NFL players with Star Wars characters.
Cam was the trailblazer and proved that his style of play can be a winning one at the NFL level and his ability has changed the game.....no "ifs" about it.
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