Before the 2013-14 NFL season, David Gettleman (the Panthers GM) threw down the gauntlet to Cam Newton. When asked whether Newton was the Panther’s QB, he responded with a seven-second pause before replying “Yes, he is. But now it’s time to win.”
Cam certainly did that- the Panthers went only 7-9 in 2012, but vaulted forward to 12-4 in 2013 and top five standings in the ESPN power rankings for much of the latter half of the season.
Heading into the last year of his contract, Cam Newton has given the Panthers a bit of breathing room by announcing publicly that he won’t holdout. However, the Panthers will have to come to the table soon enough in what will be one of the story lines for the team throughout next season. Before we look forward to contract negotiations, let’s first take a look at the changing media narrative about Newton’s second and third seasons and whether the narrative has any support.
The Media Narrative
Emerging from Cam Newton’s rookie season, writers from all over began to talk about sophomore slumps (see Bleacher Report article here). Peter King continued to bash Superman both on Twitter and in his MMQB column by criticizing him as an entertainer rather than a football player. Even in Charlotte, when CBS Charlotte polled four local sportswriters/radio hosts, all four agreed that Newton was having a down year. [1. To some members of the media's credit, there were also a few articles fighting back on the cliché of sophomore slumps (see Cat Scratch Reader here; CBS Sports here; and Cold Hard Football Facts here).]
Fortunately for Cam Newton, in his third season the slump was suddenly over. The Charlotte Observer’s Jonathan Jones reported that “Cam Newton’s sophomore slump is a thing of the past.” Yardbarker’s Zach Gropper happily announced “With Cam Newton’s ‘Sophomore Slump’ Over, NFL Should be Scared For What’s to Come.” Suddenly, instead of being mired in a sophomore slump, Superman was leading “clutch, game-winning drives.” So, is any of it actually true, or is this just a good story?
The Numbers Behind the Narrative
1. The entire “sophomore slump” narrative is garbage.
The guys over at Advanced NFL Stats have already made a compelling argument that Cam Newton had the best first two seasons in NFL history. In fact, his Passing DVOA [2. For more information on what DVOA is, check out Football Outsider's explanation here.] and DYAR [3. For more information on what DYAR is, check out FO's explanation here.] in season two actually improved rather than slumped. If someone really wants to argue the point, then sure: his rushing numbers did dip slightly, his QBR dropped two points, and he fumbled more. However, this is all incredibly minor and really missing the point. Superman played like Superman through both his first two seasons and slight variance in production does not equal a slump.
2. Cam Newton didn’t really improve in season three.
Although last year’s win totals seem to solidify Newton’s big-time payday, the numbers underneath draw his improvement into question. Compared to the rest of the league’s QBs, he actually was ranked higher in both Passing DVOA and DYAR in his first two seasons. He also ranked higher in both Rushing DVOA and DYAR in the first two seasons.
This is not to underrate Cam’s performance in any of the three seasons: he has been extraordinarily productive for a young QB. However, the prevailing media story about his development doesn’t accurately portray his performance. He’s shown remarkable consistency each season. If the Panther’s can add another WR in free agency or find a gem in later rounds of the draft (after drafting an OL), Cam Newton may take a step even further towards cementing himself in as a franchise QB in the NFL.