After a grizzly end to his time in North Carolina, Cam Newton has finally found a home with Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots. It was revealed on the 28th of June that Newton would be signing a 1-year contract with the Pats for the veteran minimum.
This move won’t come as a surprise to many as it is just the type of astute roster management that Bill Belichick specialises in. While Newton’s tenure with the Panthers did end on a sour note – Newton missed virtually all of 2019 with a foot injury only to be disposed of as an afterthought this past offseason – the former Baylor Bear remains one of the premier talents in the NFL.
Cam is more than likely going to beat out unproven sophomore QB Jarett Stidham in camp, making him the presumed starter for New England come Week 1 in 2020. So, what does Newton bring to the table for the Patriots? To put it bluntly, dynamism and efficiency.
When looking at what Cam’s potential impact on the Pats will be, the added athleticism Newton will bring, compared to Brady, certainty stands out. Standing at 6’5, 245lbs with a 4.59-second 40-yard dash, Newton’s athletic prowess speaks for itself. The guy totalled his car in 2014, fracturing his back in the process. The following season, Cam would win MVP.
In that MVP season, Newton ranked 1st, out of all NFL QBs, in rush attempts (132), rushing touchdowns (10) and rush yards (636). While Cam is talented all over the field, it is the red zone that his talent as a runner really shines. Near the goal line, Newton is virtually unstoppable. Throughout Newton’s career, the Panthers have utilised this valuable trait but none more so than in 2015. Time and time again Newton would power his way across the paint on QB designed runs.
First, let’s address Newton’s scrambling and pocket presence. Although it may not seem like it, Cam is not a pure scrambler in the sense that he’s ripping off 50, 40 yard runs consistently akin to Lamar Jackson or Robert Griffin III. Newton’s running style isn’t so much explosive as it is powerful.
Below you’ll see a fantastic execution of the Veer concept and how Cam excels at it. While it looks like a read option or a zone read at first glance, #28 Jonathan Stewart was never getting the ball on this play. As the ball is snapped, Cam doesn’t even bother reading the weakside defender as the offensive line pulls to the right clearing the path for Newton resulting in an easy TD.
Again, this time in Week 9 against the Packers, we see Cam’s authority in the red zone. This time it’s a simple QB draw with Newton receiving the ball and willing his way into the endzone – using his impressive frame and reach in the process.
The New England Patriots struggled in the red zone last season. The Patriots ranked 26th in red zone scoring percentage (touchdowns only) in 2019. While Newton can obviously scramble, he is at his most dangerous near the goal line, where his size and speed fuse together to create the ultimate red zone weapon. With Josh McDaniels’ offensive scheming, expect to see a lot of Newton diving into the endzone this upcoming season.
We’ve clearly established that Newton is dangerous in the red zone, but what about getting there?
When analysing Newton’s fit in New England, it makes sense to look at the start of the 2018 season. Per Brett Kollmann on Twitter, for the first eight games of 2018, Newton led the NFL in the percentage of passes under 20 yards, Cam also ranked 9th in completion percentage with 67.9 (the highest of his career). In doing so, Newton led the Panthers to a 6-2 start, throwing 15 touchdowns to 4 interceptions in the process.
Through analysing Cam’s 2018 stats, it’s clear to see that the Panthers, under offensive coordinator Norv Turner, ran a ‘dink and dunk’ Pats like system. This took a lot of pressure off Newton who has had to carry the Carolina offence for the majority of his career.
Compare Newton’s 2018 stats to Tom Brady’s 2019 stats and you’ll notice a trend between the two. In 2019, Brady registered an average throw depth of 7.1. This is similar to Newton’s average throw depth in 2018, which was 6.8. Moreover, the two quarterbacks yards per attempt line up with Brady averaging 6.6 Y/A in 2019 and Cam averaging 7.2 Y/A in 2018.
Before the injury that spun Cam’s career into chaos, the former MVP was playing some of the best and most efficient football of his career. Newton was accurate in his throws and decisive in his reads. In 2018, 73.0% of Newton’s passes were deemed on target by Sports Info Solutions. That’s higher than Tom Brady (72.3%), Russell Wilson (70.7%) and Aaron Rodgers (67.5%).
Despite Cam’s low average throw depth and Y/A, it’s important to note that he can still sling the deep ball. Look at this absolute dime TD throw to #88 Greg Olsen against Tampa Bay in Week 9 of 2018.
This throw came on a 3rd & 17. The Buccaneers defence is showing 2-hi, so Cam’s primary read is Olsen up the seam. The Tampa 2 linebacker follows him but turns his back to Newton and the ball – giving #1 the signal to let it rip and give Olsen a chance to come down with it. Solid and efficient quarterback play with a lovely throw to cap it off.
Stats aside, Newton also resembles Brady in the qualitative ‘clutch’ stat. Per ESPN’s David Newton, at the time of writing in late October of 2018, Newton was averaging 2 4th quarter comebacks per season, making him on pace to equal Brady’s current total of 36 4th quarter comebacks.
Newton’s clutch factor is best shown via this Week 7 match-up with the Eagles in 2018. With the Panthers down 17 points going into the 4th quarter, Newton would go on to mount a charging comeback. Only missing one throw in back to back scoring drives to start the 4th quarter, Cam would finish the 4th quarter going 16-6. Three of those six incompletions came in the first three plays of the final drive for the Panthers. As a result, Cam was facing a 4th & 10 to keep the game alive.
On that 4th down, Newton evades Brandom Graham, steps up in the pocket and delivers a dot while being tackled by Michael Bennett for a 35-yard completion. While displaying his clutch factor, Newton simultaneously demonstrates his precise and powerful skillset.
It’s clear then that the Patriots are signing a quarterback that can prosper in the ‘dink and dunk’ offence they have been running for the past few years. While most people remember Cam’s explosive QB play from 2015; long runs and deep bombs, his uber-efficient 2018 play is why he will fit seamlessly into the Patriots system.
Newton in New England
From a personnel perspective, Newton’s signing continues to make sense for New England. While not quite as talented as Christian McCaffrey, James White is one of the best pass-catching ‘satellite’ backs in the league. Outside of Brady, White was New England’s best player on offence last year. And while the Patriots receiver corps is talent deficient, Newton has excelled with a lot less at that position.
It’s important to note that Cam was only sacked a total of 29 times in 2018, the fewest of his career. If New England is to emulate and enhance that Norv Turner offence (which we know they already do) in 2020, then those major injury concerns for Newton should disappear somewhat. Moreover, the Patriots’ offensive line is stacking up to be one of the best in the NFL.
The Patriots were a 12-4 team with a 42-year-old Tom Brady under centre, while Brady wasn’t as bad as most people believe he was last year. There were signs, such as the determination of his play as the season went on, that time was catching up to Tom. It should be noted then, that it is painstakingly frustrating, yet remarkable, that Bill Belichick has signed a quarterback 11 years younger than Brady who is a perfect fit for the system and brings the added bonus of scrambling ability and a better arm.
Although outside factors such as the COVID-19 pandemic and the abundance of free-agent quarterbacks this past offseason has hurt Newton’s negotiating situation, this is one of the best-case scenarios for the former MVP. Cam can look at the success of Ryan Tannehill‘s tenure in Tennessee and be encouraged. Cam is being coached by the greatest coach of all time and is in a system that will do everything it can to keep him efficient and keep him upright. Throw in a dash of that old Cam Newton dynamism and the 2020 Patriots will be one of the most exciting teams in the NFL.