Is Cam Newton the Greatest Rookie QB Ever?

I think this is a fairly sick stat line:


Year Tm Pos G Cmp% Yds TD Int Lng Y/A Y/G Rate
2011 CAR QB 15 60.0 3893 20 16 91 7.9 259.5 85.0
Career 15 60.0 3893 20 16 91 7.9 259.5 85.0

Here's Dan Marino for some comparison:


Year Tm Pos G GS Cmp% Yds TD Int Lng Y/A Y/G Rate
1983* MIA QB 11 9 58.4 2210 20 6 85 7.5 200.9 96.0

Peyton Manning:

Year Tm Pos G Cmp% Yds TD Int Lng Y/A Y/G Rate
1998 IND QB 16 56.7 3739 26 28 78 6.5 233.7 71.2

And Greg Cook:

 
Year Tm Pos G Cmp% Yds TD Int Lng Y/A Y/G Rate
1969 CIN QB 11 53.8 1854 15 11 78 9.4 168.5 88.3

And Andy Dalton:

Year Tm Pos G Cmp% Yds TD Int Lng Y/A Y/G Rate
2011 CIN QB 15 58.9 3166 20 13 84 6.7 211.1 81.8
Career 15 58.9 3166 20 13 84 6.7 211.1 81.8

I think most of this is a wash--except Manning who I think is last. It's been a great year for quarterbacks all around, so perhaps in context, Greg Cook (and possibly Dan Marino) really takes the crown. The thing to remember about Cam Newton is that, in addition to throwing the ball like he does, he can run. Steve Young comes to mind as the prototype.

As a small aside, here's Newton discussing his early reception in the league:

Some of Newton's critics were so harsh that his mentor, Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon, believed their reviews were racially charged. But Newton wouldn't play up the race card in an interview for next month's issue of ESPN The Magazine, instead pointing to people's bias because of past failed high-pick QBs -- although there is a catch to what he says. 

"I can't sit up here and look at it like, 'Oh man, my critics are racist,' " Newton said. "I blame JaMarcus Russell and to some degree Vince Young. If you have the opportunity to make that kind of money doing something you love to do, why would you screw it up? I'm trying to be a trailblazer. If Baylor's Robert Griffin decides to come out, I want people to say 'He can be the next Cam Newton' instead of 'He's going to be the next JaMarcus Russell.' "

I find this very interesting.  First it's worth noting that there is a specific kind of  contempt that many black sports fans hold for someone like JaMarcus Russell (less so for Vince Young) who we feel didn't "represent."

To the greater issue of racism, Newton's perspective is perfectly logical and identical to the perspective of a lot of black professionals. Despite what you may have heard, I can report that there is very little (if any) competitive benefit to charging racism in the workplace. Leaving aside the relatively high burden of proof, the complaint subtracts energy  from the actual effort of competing. I'm speaking just as a dude holding a civilian job. I assume this is true many times over in the NFL. 

Fortunately I am not trying to make it as a professional quarterback.  Thus it must be said that accepting Newton's formulation, he's actually proving Warren Moon's point. JaMarcus may well be the greatest bust ever (and like any greatest, that's debatable) but the list of white quarterback busts is fairly legion ranging from Ryan Leaf to Tim Couch to Todd Marinovich to Art Schlichter. But Newton is Newton worried about walking in the shadow of  say, Joey Harrington or David Carr. He's worried about the black guys. That is telling. 

Our American struggle is not about the freedom to be exceptional--we've had that since the days of Frederick Douglass. It's about the freedom to be mediocre, the freedom to fail, and have that failure, or mediocrity, speak only to the merit of an individual, not to the "group." I assure you that Andy Dalton does not fear Matt Leinart, in the same way that Cam Newton fears Vince Young.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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