by John Timko & Vivek Vallurupalli, Sports Contributors
photo courtesy of USA Today Sports
Number-one overall draft pick, former Carolina Panther and now-New England Patriot starting quarterback Cam Newton has seen immense success in the NFL after an incredible Heisman-winning year at Auburn University. Newton exploded out of the gate in his first season, winning the Rookie of the Year award, but he didn’t stop there. He won the NFL regular season MVP in 2015 and led Carolina’s juggernaut offense to Super Bowl 50.
After injury-ridden seasons in 2018 and 2019, however, the Panthers cut Newton. In July, after months of uncertainty within the Patriots’ now-Brady-less franchise, New England signed Newton, providing him with an opportunity to prove he still belongs in the NFL.
During the late summer training camp, Newton impressed head coach Bill Belichick with his work ethic, and Belichick publicly stated that “nobody works harder” than Newton. In early September, news outlets reported he was elected a captain by the team.
Franchise legend Tom Brady’s departure to Tampa Bay in March left the Patriots reeling. Until Newton’s signing, the starting quarterback role would have fallen to either second-year player Jarrett Stidham or veteran Brian Hoyer. Neither player fostered widespread hope in the minds of Patriots fans.
During the Brady era, the Patriots’ greatest weapon was arguably their passing game, as New England could rely on a diverse group of receivers, who allowed Brady to attack a team both with deep balls and with shorter passes.
With Newton at the helm, the Patriots changed their entire offensive strategy: what was once an aerial assault under Brady became a run-dominant attack, centered around quarterback runs with Newton himself.
Newton’s versatility and ability to run the ball has the potential to completely open up the team’s running game. Now, an opponent has to factor in that quarterback Newton could be a running threat, where Brady was known to be slower, and almost never ran the ball himself. This could open up the backfield and leave other running backs open.
On-field play isn’t where Newton’s impact ends. He has become a leader on the team, helping his teammates even on his own time. Newton practiced with Julian Edelman before the season started and has played a key role in second-year receiver N’Keal Harry’s development; after Harry’s key week one fumble, Newton defended him during a press conference, and Harry described his quarterback as a “big brother.”
Harry said in a September 11 video conference with reporters that Newton’s experience in the league has helped him out a lot, and that “he’s done a great job putting his arm around me and guiding me through this whole thing,” a key distinction from Brady’s little-to-no work with younger players.
Newton brings a unique kind of energy, from his radiant smile to his eccentric postgame outfits to the nicknames he calls his teammates, ranging from Harry’s “Doughboy” to Edelman’s “Highway 11,” as well as over 15 more unique to each teammate.
Few people in the NFL get second chances, and Newton has a chance to continue his career with a team and coach who can help him realize his highest potential. Newton will undoubtedly embrace the opportunity to propel himself back to greatness.