A Look at Cam Newton's Early Fantasy Outlook

The ESPN Top 200 and Cam Newton’s Early Fantasy Outlook

Well Panthers fans, the draft is over, OTA's are underway, the mock draft lobbies are open, and the official ESPN standard scoring pre-draft fantasy projections rankings are out.  Several sites have released their lists, but I chose to look at the ESPN list both because of its immense popularity, unquestionable influence, and unwavering conservatism.  Obviously this early on there are some kinks to work out; Josh Gordon's #19 rank comes to mind, but overall the list is pretty solid.
After taking a look at the top 200 and completing about a dozen mock drafts, some obvious early trends have come to light. Running backs are shallow, quarterbacks are deep, and the Carolina Panthers are nowhere to be found.     
The first Panther on the list, and the only player in the first seven rounds, is Cam Newton at #34. The former fantasy draft day first round prospect clocks in this year at the end of the third round in snake draft 12 team leagues. That being said, this significant drop in VBD ranking is more a reflection of how deep quarterbacks are this year than of Newton's value.  ESPN has shown Cam a whole lotta love, ranking him QB4, behind only Rodgers, Brees, and of course, Peyton Manning (the only QB in the top 12). This is a little surprising due to the fact that Cam, who derives his value from rushing yards, will be fresh off of ankle surgery. I can only assume that the thinking there is that Carolina has lost all of its wideouts, and will have to run the ball, sore legs or not. Although I do not necessarily agree with this thinking, it isn't a terrible way of looking at it.  Cam is huge, fast, durable, and this surgery is both abnormal and relatively minor; not to mention the fact that Riverboat Ron isn't exactly known for playing it safe.  The designed run fad in the NFL came and went in 2012, but Cam Newton will run the ball this year, and he will run for touchdowns!

Surprisingly, Cam Newton will also be an effective passer this season, which is exactly why he completely deserves to be the fourth ranked QB.  Three years ago we all saw a crazy running, Walter Peyton style superman jumping, fumblerooskiing, rookie phenom on a weird, wildly inconsistent, college-NFL hybrid offense with a subpar defense and a losing record.  Fast forward to the end of last year and you had a consistent, professional, composed and successful offense, and a great and getting greater defense--all allowing Newton to grow as a passer and as a leader.  He repeatedly led game winning drives in high pressure situations on a national stage, at home and away, mostly without having to rely on the designed run or the read option. His composure in the pocket has matured as much as his accuracy, and although he will not be able to thread the needle like Aaron Rodgers, or blindly lob the ball to a Josh Gordon/Megatron type, he will be able to air the ball well enough to earn a spot in the top five.

Last year he finished as QB3, and I see no reason why that cannot happen again. With all of this talk about Carolina dumping all of its receivers and how that will cripple their offense, people tend to forget how lackluster a year our WRs had. Hixon sucked, Lafell was disappointing, and Ginn had harder hands than a gargoyle. Steve Smith only caught 5 touchdowns and averaged less than 50 yards a game, while Carolina’s wideouts as a whole only averaged ten catches a game. Over the last two years, the Panthers have only even attempted about 30 passes per game (ranked #30 in the NFL in 2012 and 2013) and yet Cam Newton finished in the top five fantasy QBs both of those years. So the names have changed, but the game is the same, and if the numbers suggest anything, there is nowhere to go but up and any major WR shakeups are a welcome change. Obviously being able to build chemistry with the new wide receiving corps quickly will be vital, in that it will make passing touchdowns easier, first downs more common, rhythms more rhythmic, momentum more momentous, and spread out defenses enough to make his personal rushing touchdowns more plentiful. But either way, even a conservative estimate of the talent pool on the offense in general really hasn’t taken a huge hit, and in my opinion, has improved in the offseason. If a good relationship among the offensive players can form, Cam Newton will be successful, consistent, high scoring, and a great early fantasy QB pickup—Steve  Smith or not.

By Matt Haithcock