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Nov 24, 2013; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) before playing against the Miami Dolphins at Sun Life Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

Cam Newton pushing towards 'elite' quarterback status

As Cam Newton torched the SEC on his way towards leading the Auburn Tigers to the 2010 BCS National Championship, draft analysts weren’t sure what to make of the talented quarterback.

As an athlete, Newton’s measurables were the stuff combine dreams are made of, and Newton’s statistics in the best collegiate football conference in the land were mind-blowing. Yet, people wondered if he was equipped to handle an NFL offense and if he was a polished enough passer to win football games from within the pocket–where the vast majority of NFL games seem to be won and lost these days.

Early projections had Newton has a mid first-rounder, but eventually talent and charisma won out. Cam Newton was selected first overall by the Carolina Panthers in the 2011 NFL Draft.

Now, in his third season as a pro, Cam Newton is starting to deliver on some of the promise that made him the first pick in 2011. His Panthers are 8-3, a near-lock for the playoffs and suddenly a contender in the NFC South after seven consecutive victories.

However, what’s made Cam Newton’s game revolutionary is the way he’s matured as a quarterback.

Cam has always had the physical prowess, and when things got particularly hairy, instinct led Newton out of the pocket and into the frying pan. He was prolific as a running quarterback–his rookie year he ran for 14 touchdowns and over 700 yards, while in year two he ran for another 700+ and eight more scores.

However, as dynamic as Newton was outside the pocket, he was also prone to error. He threw 17 interceptions in 2011 and fumbled five more times (losing three). The following season he threw 12 more interceptions and fumbled 10 times (losing three more).

In the NFL, negative plays stifle/end drives, and Newton’s Panthers gave away more drives than they were comfortable with through Cam’s first two seasons. In 2013, it became clear that there was a new directive.

Nobody was going to stop Cam Newton from being the uber-athlete that made him a No. 1 pick in the first place, but it was critical for Cam to rein it in. And under the tutelage of Mike Shula–Cam’s position coach turned coordinator–he’s managed to do exactly that.

Cam Newton is still the sort of athlete that has to be accounted for on every play. If you turn your back on him, he’ll eat up yardage on the ground in an instant, and in the redzone he’s still Carolina’s most punishing runner, which is saying something considering the Mike Tolbert signing.

However, now Cam Newton runs in a different manner. Between the 20s, Newton isn’t looking to break the bank on every play. He’s content with scampering for what’s given/necessary and getting out of bounds. He’s more mindful of the football, too, having only fumbled three times through 11 games.

In the pocket, he’s also developed as a passer. The numbers are only slightly improved over 2011 and 2012, but they are improved nonetheless. Yet, the most noticeable difference has come late in games.

In critical situations, the young quarterback was often thrown off by contentious defenses attempting to disguise and manipulate coverages, but in 2013, Cam Newton has managed to play some of his best football in the fourth quarter.

He engineered a game-winning drive against the New England Patriots a couple of weeks ago that announced both his and Carolina’s presence as legitimate to the world. All totaled, in he’s engineered three game-winning drives on the season.

To extrapolate on things even more, Cam Newton has completed 64.4% of his passes for nine touchdowns to just two interceptions in the second half of games this season. That’s good enough for a quarterback rating (independent of his skills as a runner, mind you) of 99.8. And, oh by the way, he’s run for all five of his touchdowns in the second half, as well.

Simply put, he’s playing a smarter brand of football, and I don’t say that in conjunction with the ideology that Cam wasn’t capable of getting his head in a playbook that led some draft analysts to doubt Newton in the first place, but only to point out that his game is evolving like you expect a young quarterback’s to.

Cam has all the talent in the world, but he made mistakes in his first two seasons like all young quarterbacks do. Now, he’s playing like a veteran and it shows.

The Carolina Panthers are 8-3 and Cam Newton is beginning to look like an elite quarterback.

Tags: Cam Newton Carolina Panthers NFL

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