Madden NFL 16 Primer: Why 'Draft Champions' Matters

There’s Nothing Like Cam Newton in Fantasy Football

We've never seen something like Cam Newton before.
We've never seen something like Cam Newton before.

While there were a variety of concerns with Cam Newton leading up to the 2011 NFL Draft, by almost any measurement there is the former #1 overall pick has been a smashing success as a real life quarterback so early in his career (although not without criticism). And that’s even more true as a QB in fantasy football.

In Newton’s 3 campaigns as a pro, he has finished 3rd, 4th, and 3rd again among quarterbacks in standard fractional scoring. This remarkable level of production and yearly consistency — especially at a young age from a so-called “raw” prospect — is just about unheard of. As is the way he is scoring these points for his owners: through his legs. But is this a good thing in the long run?

Blast From The Past

One of the best ways to predict the future is to look back and analyze the past – recent or distant. This applies to just about every facet of the universe, and of course why should fantasy football be any different? As a quick and fresh example, looking at the ways Andy Reid had deployed his running backs in Philadelphia, we knew Jamaal Charles would be heavily featured as a receiver last season. People who banked on seeing this uptick in Charles’ game probably rode him to a fantasy title.

Historical context can work in the other direction too, though. Last year, after examining the mounting warning signs of overuse and creeping injuries, we warned against taking Arian Foster high in drafts. This was a young guy who had been an elite fantasy running back for three years straight. Now, no one predicted it would be a back injury that would end his season, but there were plenty of red flags mounting for such a disaster. Owners that did not look back on Foster’s previous seasons ended up throwing caution to the wind, and their fantasy seasons likely out with it.

So which side of the coin does “Super Cam” fall on? We need to look back and try to find some examples of players similar to Newton and see what we can take from it. But first, let’s establish what a Cam Newton season looks like for the Carolina Panthers.

Cam Newton Fantasy Rushing Chart

Note about chart above: Rather than going back and seeing whether each lost fumble or successful 2 pt. conversion should be considered part of the passing total or rushing total, we’ve simply excluded them altogether for this exercise. We’ve also removed the 33 career receiving yards Cam has gotten on a few trick plays. This was also done when looking at historical numbers to compare to.

As expected, a huge chunk of the fantasy point pie comes from Newton’s rushing ability with a career average of about 37%. That’s a pretty stark contrast to someone like Peyton Manning, who had a negative figure in that category for his historic 2013 season.

Just how rare is Newton here? Excluding himself, since 2000 there have only been 11 seasons put together (by 6 different players) where a QB finished as a top 12 fantasy option and had at least 30% of his fantasy points come from his rushing stats. Of those 6 players, only 2 of them did it twice (Michael Vick and Donovan McNabb), and other than Cam, only one of them has done it 3 or more times (Vick at 5).

That is rare territory indeed, but Vick is not at all a stylistic match for Cam. Vick was a much smaller and faster athlete who ripped off long run after long run like the NFL had never seen. McNabb was more similar in stature and athletic ability to Cam, but never possessed the same kind of open-field shiftiness. Another player who just missed the cutoff but was a fantasy force with some running ability was Daunte Culpepper, though again, not the same style of runner that Cam is. With Newton, you’re very much exploring uncharted waters.

None of these men are runners in quite the rumble-tumble fashion that Newton is, but Cam’s hyper-productivity means they are the best comparisons we’ve got.

A History of Danger

Even though the last three names mentioned (Vick, McNabb, and Culpepper) are more statistical matches to Newton than the eye would tell you, there’s still an interesting dynamic those three players share: All of them dealt with career-crippling injuries directly resulting from their affinity for scrambling.

Vick has only managed a full 16-game slate one time in his career because he is constantly getting beat up as a runner. Not all of his various injuries occurred on scrambling plays but many did. In 2006 McNabb tore an ACL at the end of a scramble and after returning from reconstructive surgery, he was never the same as a runner, failing to ever again reach the 20% mark for fantasy points via rushing. Like McNabb, Culpepper tore an ACL at the end of a scramble, only that injury practically ended his career. At one point pre-injury, Culpepper put up a season over 40% and finished as a top 3 fantasy QB four times.

The dangers of a franchise quarterback running around are evident and one tragic injury could sap Newton of his most unique talents, although his massive 6’5″ 245-pound frame could very well make him much more fit to handle the punishment of a running quarterback over the long haul. Putting that aside, looking closer at the numbers above reveals something perhaps much more troubling than potential injuries (and no, we’re not talking about his potential Madden curse).

An Unsettling Pattern

So we’ve established that in Cam Newton we have a player who is reliant on rushing in a way only Michael Vick can rival over the past 13 years. The problem is that Cam has quietly had a steady drop off every year in his rushing contributions. His 585 rushing yards in 2013 were down nearly 24% from his previous 2 year average, and his 6 rushing touchdowns were less than half the 14 he scored as a rookie. Even worse, rather than taking statistical leaps forward as a passer to make up for lost ground, Newton has actually declined every year in passing yardage and (slightly) in fantasy points from passing. Naturally, his overall fantasy points have taken a sharp hit despite his strong positional placement. Not good.

Then we factor in that this player is coming off surgery to an ankle which is expected to sideline him for most of the spring and summer seasons. I’m no doctor, but I can’t imagine that being helpful for the prospects of a rushing QB. And there’s also the matter of Newton losing his top three wide receivers from 2013. Whatever you think of them, the trio of Steve Smith, Brandon LaFell, and Ted Ginn leave behind 1928 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns in Carolina. That’s about 58% of Newton’s 2013 totals that have to be made up just to break even. It can be done, but it’s another straw on the back of the fourth-year star.

A Future of Uncertainty

With all of the above considered, I’d have a hard time hitching my season to the Newton wagon unless it came at a significant value later in the draft. In single QB leagues where solid players at the position are readily available, there’s no need to take the gamble. Picking Newton is even a riskier proposition in Dynasty leagues because we just don’t know how long he can continue running the way he does. We’ve never seen someone quite like Cam Newton before, and we may not see the same guy again before long.

Still, one has to wonder if the key to a rushing quarterback’s lifespan in the NFL — much like that of running backs — is tied strongly to his size and ability to take punishment. With Newton, we’re looking at a physical breed of quarterback that we’ve never seen before, so you might have to throw conventional theories of mobile survivability of the position out the window.

Would YOU take Cam Newton in a Dynasty league?

Would you take Cam Newton in a Dyansty league?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

daily fantasy football league