Cam Newton was a no-brainer as the first quarterback prospect nabbed during the 2011 National Football League draft. Even so, there were many analysts and experts who questioned just how effective the rookie field leader would be during his freshman run. After Week 2 in the NFL, Newton is already turning doubters into believers... and rightfully so.
Week 1: Arizona Cardinals 28 Carolina Panthers 21
Newton had a solid National Football League (NFL) debut with a WPA of 0.37. The rookie threw two touchdown passes (both to Steve Smith). He chucked the "pigskin" for a total of 422 yards with just one interception. The first touchdown came on an impressive 77-yard pass in the opening quarter, while the second was a 26-yard toss with six seconds left in the half. Clearly, Newton can handle a little pressure; The first-year player even took the ball into the end zone and rushed for a total of 18 yards on eight carries.
Overall, Newton succeeded on 24 of 37 passes (64.9%); It's a small sample snapshot but (for comparison's sake) only six quarterbacks finished the 2010-11 season with a success rate higher than that. Carolina's leading quarterback last season, Jimmy Clausen, managed a success rate of just 52.5%. Newton's EPA of 15.0 was outstanding.
Week 2: Green Bay Packers 30 Carolina Panthers 23
Just when you thought the rookie quarteback could not top his impressive debut game... He threw for 432 yards with a 61% success rate. Although he tossed just one touchdown pass (to sophomore WR Brandon LaFell), Newton ran for his own touchdown for the second straight game. He has now scored a touchdown in each of his first two pro games, a difficult feat for a rookie wide receiver or running back, let alone a quarterback. He also posted a respectable 7.2 EPA but was bested by Green Bay's veteran QB Aaron Rodgers (9.3 EPA)
Although he threw more than 400 yards, Newton saw his WPA dip from Week 1 (0.37) to Week 2 (-0.23). The three interceptions are also a little alarming but he was clearly trying to do too much at times.
Upcoming: Week 3 vs The Jacksonville Jaguars (1-1)
If Newton can stay within himself and not try to do too much, he should continue to enjoy success in Week 3 against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Newton matches up favorably against Jacksonville quarterback Luke McCown, and the Jaguars' defense has been one of the worst in the league so far.
Carolina has to find a way to stop the bleeding in the second half. The club has outscored opponents 27-14 in the first half, but they've been decimated 17-44 in the final half of their contests. The defenders have got to step up their games.
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Carolina entered 2011 with certain expectations based on Newton's reputation for having a questionable throwing arm, which is hard to believe now. As such, Arizona and Green Bay both likely prepared for their contests against Carolina with the running game in mind. They may have been taken aback by the Panthers' approach. You can expect Jacksonville and the rest of the league to be fully prepared for both air and ground assaults moving forward. It will be interesting to see how Newton performs now that the element of surprise is gone.
Clearly, two weeks does not make a career - or even a single season. However, Newton has built a solid foundation for future prosperity, including success rates (SR) of more than 50% in each of his first two games.