Cam Newton is coming off one of the greatest rookie seasons in NFL history. The AP Offensive Rookie of the Year broke Peyton Manning's rookie passing record, and Newton's 14 single-season rushing touchdowns are tops all-time for a quarterback. So, after failing to register any running game and tossing two interceptions in Carolina's opening-week loss at Tampa Bay -- whose defense last year allowed an NFL-worst 494 points -- the sophomore slump question marks must be quelled.
Newton, to be sure, is far from a finished product as a passer. He is still prone to the errant decision and at times struggles to throw an accurate intermediate ball. As great as he was last season, he completed just 60 percent of his passes, 18th best in the league.
While Newton could conceivably regress in his second year, consider that he threw 17 interceptions as a rookie and finished with a passer rating of 84.5, good enough for 15th in the league -- in other words, plenty of room for improvement. Perhaps the closest comparison comes in St. Louis quarterback Sam Bradford, also an AP Offensive Rookie of the Year, in 2010. Bradford endured a miserable 2011 season, tossing a mere six touchdown passes while seeing his completion percentage drop 6.5 points. But Bradford's best receiving weapon was Danny Amendola, and he lacks both Newton's arm strength and athletic ability.
The good news for Newton is that despite his two Week 1 interceptions, he still managed to complete 70 percent of his passes while totaling over 300 yards in the air. The Panthers, as a whole, are a dangerous offense, surrounding him with speed and power. Steve Smith and Brandon LaFell -- who caught Newton's lone TD pass -- are a solid one-two punch, while tight end Greg Olsen should provide a tremendous safety valve for Newton down the seam. If DeAngelo Williams and currently injured running back Jonathan Stewart can pose a legitimate threat in the backfield, Newton will be that much more dangerous.
While it may be unreasonable to expect the 23-year-old to repeat his 14 rushing touchdowns of 2012, it is not unreasonable to think his numbers will improve on the whole. The 6-foot-5 behemoth has another year under center with Panthers offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski in an up-tempo system that favors his unique skill set. He is simply too talented not to continue his rise up the ladder of NFL quarterbacks.
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