Top 20 Quarterbacks: #13 Cam Newton

Cam Newton plays one way – hard. All of his passes are high velocity. He’s fast, quick, and tough as a runner. He has a knack for creating big plays through the air and on the ground. Yet, just as with other athletic quarterbacks, he gets into the most trouble when the game calls for precision.

Because of his ability to create big plays with his legs, Cam Newton has faced a lot of zone coverage throughout his career. Teams don’t want to play as much man coverage against him because they don’t want multiple defenders turning their backs to him, which creates room for big plays when he scrambles. Defenses also often put 8 men in the box and play with a stop-the-run-first mentality. This leaves lots of opportunities on the outside with soft zone one-on-one matchups for Cam to exploit in the passing game.

But Newton doesn’t take advantage of these looks enough through the air. His coverage recognition has proven to be less than stellar through his first 3 seasons. The coverage has to be clearly defined for him, and when it is, he has moments where he looks like a professional pocket passer. Coverage in the NFL isn’t always clearly defined, though. Newton has a bad habit of pre-determining lots of throws instead of reading the coverage as he drops back. This leads to him sticking with receivers too long and telegraphing some throws. Naturally, it also means that he guesses wrong sometimes. This ends up disrupting the play as well as the ability of the offense to get into a rhythm.

From his ability to feel the rush, to his ability to move within the pocket while maintaining a downfield focus, to his ability to make the right type of throw, Cam needs to gain more precision from the pocket. He has a cannon for an arm, and the ability to make some amazing throws. But again, he has one speed in which he throws the ball. Quarterbacks need to make the correct throw to beat the coverage on a regular basis. This means sometimes zipping a pass into a tight window. Other times, it means using touch. Sometimes a quarterback needs to throw it to his receiver’s back shoulder. Or against zone coverage over the middle of the field, he might need to throw the ball behind his receiver in order to make him settle in an open area instead of leading him into nearby defenders. Newton needs huge improvement in this area of his game.

Yet there is no doubting Cam’s ability. He can make huge plays with both his arm and his legs. He can scramble when things break down and rip off an 80-yard touchdown run. His ability to scramble forces defenders to react, which means they vacate the areas of the field they were previously defending in order to contain Newton. This often leads to more open receivers.

Cam Newton strikes fear in the hearts of defensive coordinators throughout the league. However, so much of this is because of his athletic ability. This is why his offseason ankle surgery has to be a concern. Will it be healed completely by the time the season starts? Newton has recently stressed how his ankle is not yet 100 percent. Even when it is healthy, will Newton trust it and be as dangerous as a runner? If not, his pocket passing skills will be put to the test, and the lack of precision in his game could prevent Cam and the Panthers from having as successful of a 2014 season.

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