With the first pick in the 2011 NFL draft, the Carolina Panthers select… Cam Newton, quarterback, Auburn. These words spoken by Roger Goodell would send a shockwave of mixed feelings throughout the Panther’s fan base. Reactions like: “Why would we draft a one year wonder? ,” “Are we honestly going to ask a half back to throw 30 passes a game? ,” and “Aren’t we giving up on Jimmy Clausen too soon, should've drafted AJ Green” certainly didn't reinforce the fact that the controversial Heisman winning quarterback was a smart choice. But as the first week of his rookie season came along, most doubt would be dispelled to the tune of 440 total yards, 3 touchdowns, a costly interception, and one excited fan base. As the charismatic and talented young QB shredded his way through the record books, fans bought his jerseys and reenacted his signature touchdown move at their own personal accomplishments.
Cam Newton was defying all odds and producing with little talent around him, the front office chose to neglect adding any extra talent, even in the face of the inevitable, their number one receiver beginning to play his age. A sophomore slump, an astounding third season, and a battered but miraculous run to the playoffs including his first postseason win has us where we are now. On Sunday, Panther’s fans sat by and watched their beloved team get beat by a better one, and their quarterback struggling against a defense in which every opposing QB plays poorly. The game wasn't the only thing lost for a surprising amount of “fans.” A lot of people lost faith and the love they had for their franchise quarterback. Sulking at the end of another season, I mistakenly looked at twitter and saw a tweet that read something along the lines of, “Hate to say it, but we really shouldn't have drafted Cam #1.” Saddened by the loss of appreciation for “Super Cam” I began to think whether he really was the right choice, here’s what I came up with.
The 2011 draft class was stacked, with 10 of the first 16 picks being future pro bowl invites. So should we have passed on Cam and drafted one of the many superstars? This gets us to the main word in this discussion… “Maybe.”
Maybe the Panthers should have drafted AJ Green and tanked the upcoming season for Andrew Luck. The Panthers would have had to try awful hard for the #1 overall spot, ultimately I still think the Panthers would've had a hard time winning just two games. They played the likes of Jacksonville and the Colts, and Indianapolis really wanted Andrew Luck. The Panthers might have landed high enough to draft Robert Griffin III, and missed out on middle linebacker Luke Kuechly. I don't know about you, but I’d take Cam and Luke over RGIII and AJ Green any day. Even if we could've had that #1 pick and selected Luck, It is well documented that he did not want to play in Carolina and may have requested a trade. This might sound eerily familiar to Charlotte sports fans, Kobe Bryant anyone?
Maybe the Panthers should have spent their #1 pick otherwise and drafted Colin Kaepernick, or Russell Wilson the following year. People who unfairly critique Cam Newton cannot truthfully tell me they'd rather have Kaep, who had a lesser QBR (55.9) than Cam (56.9) with an offense oozing talent and without the injuries. Wilson is great in the role he is asked to play, but at the end of the day Wilson’s QBR was only 5.5 points higher (62.4 to 56.9). Maybe Wilson is the better QB, but would Hurney have had the foresight to draft Wilson a year later? The same foresight that drafted Amini Silatolu over Alshon Jeffrey and Terrell McClain over Justin Houston and Demarco Murray, so lets do everyone a favor and put the Newton vs. Wilson debate to rest.
Maybe the Panther’s fans should appreciate what they have; A young dynamic playmaker taking snaps from under center. A quarterback who may have done poorly against a Seattle defense that held him to 283 yards 2 TDs and Aaron Rodgers to 187 1 TD. A quarterback who went to Foxborough and outplayed Tom Brady with two more touchdowns, no interceptions to Brady’s one, a 25.6 point higher QBR, and one win against the two loss Patriots. A quarterback who has been sacked 156 times and hit 262 times in the regular season since entering the league, but only blames himself when his play is sub-par. Maybe the Panthers should not have drafted Cam and let him slip to a fan base who would not be so critical of him as a whole. Maybe the Panthers shouldn't have drafted Cam and let him slip to a franchise more eager to surround him with much needed talent. Maybe Cam Newton is what I think he is, a football player and a human being that can represent the city of Charlotte and the Carolinas with exciting on field play, and charity work/ community service off of it.
When the Panther’s get the much needed offensive makeover in the upcoming offseasons, and Cam’s play becomes elite as a result. The people who called for Derek Anderson to start, and trashed Cam like he committed a crime, will not so easily be forgiven by me. Their new-found love of our franchise quarterback will reciprocate his love for the fans, a love that never soured, even when they were acting worse than his on field play. I guess Cam spoke it best when he said, “Winning excuses everything.” And that winning will be timely and glorious.
By Grant Hughes
Follow Grant on Twitter @KenjonVander