There’s no denying the excitement behind Cam Newton’s rookie season. Powerful open-field runs, bombs to Steve Smith and broken record after broken record fueled a hype train that did nothing but gain momentum over the course of the season. His high-volume stats and impressive highlight reel indicate that Newton’s season is about as good as it gets for rookie signal callers, and will be compared to other young phenom quarterbacks who enter this league for a long time.
But should it be? With the Redskins set to start Robert Griffin III, their own young star, should the success of his season be determined by how it matches up to what Newton did?
The answer to that is "no, it should not". And before I explain, I’d like to establish that I think Newton is a freak with incredible potential not just with his athleticism, but his passing ability. That said, don’t be fooled into thinking that he’s already among the game’s elite passers, and don’t be fooled into thinking that his season epitomized rookie success.
Let’s take a look at the records that Newton has his name under. Most passing yards in a game for a rookie, most passing yards in a season for a rookie, most rushing touchdowns in a season by a quarterback, and the list goes on. What do all these numbers have in common? They’re volume-based, not efficiency-based. They’re gaudy, exciting and certainly achievements that Newton has every right to hang his hat on, but it would be shortsighted to ignore the shortcomings of these numbers.
Where Newton thrived in volume, he struggled in situational football and efficiency. An article by Scott Kacsmar displays this in full detail, showing Newton’s struggles late in games, during close games and during critical third downs, taking both his passing and rushing into account. Again, this is not to say that he cannot improve these aspects over time-- but simply put-- he just isn’t there yet.
So where does this leave Robert Griffin III? He will likely be compared to Newton early and often, given the fact that they’re both mobile and have cannons for arms. The fact is, the two are nothing alike aside from that. Newton is built like a tank, and was quick to take off running in the pros just as he was in college, and Griffin is a smaller runner who relies more on speed than power and also showed a keen ability to withstand traffic and throw in the pocket. Right now, Newton is a running quarterback who can throw as opposed to Griffin’s self-title of being a throwing quarterback who can run. We’ll see if that remains true when Griffin takes his first pro snaps.
But the on the surface, similarities between the two still remain and will undoubtedly call people to draw comparisons between their rookie statistics as the season goes on. If that’s the case, I don’t see Griffin touching Newton’s record marks but it won’t necessarily mean he has an inferior season. Despite his lofty expectations, Griffin needs to be a good game manager before he decides to set the world on fire as many suggest he will.
Minimizing mistakes, performing consistently in all points of the game while keeping the team in a spot to win is what defines a great rookie signal caller. Not 4,000 yards. Not 35 touchdowns. Those numbers are just indications of success, and not the sole definition of it.
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