By Brandon Niles EBS Sports Columnist
Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton deserves to win the NFL’s annual Most Valuable Player award. As of this writing, the Panthers hold the league’s best record at 14-1, and Newton has already set a career high for passing touchdowns. At age 26, he’s showing the kind of efficiency and leadership that fans have been expecting since he was selected first overall in the 2011 NFL draft.
He’s not alone. Other players are deserving of consideration. Fellow quarterbacks Carson Palmer of the Arizona Cardinals and Tom Brady of the New England Patriots seem to be leading candidates, and rightfully so.
Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson and New York Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr. could also be considered, as well as defensive studs like Carolina cornerback Josh Norman and defensive end J.J. Watt of the Houston Texans. However, a quarterback has won the award in seven of the last eight seasons, making it likely that one of the three field generals will walk away with the prize.
The success of Brady and Palmer is easy to quantify. The two rank first and second, respectively, in both passing yards and touchdowns, and both had only two losses through the first 13 games of the season. The justification for Newton’s candidacy is a little more difficult. He ranks in the middle of the pack in passing yardage this season, and his completion percentage is under 60 percent, a typical barometer for efficiency.
However, a simple look at statistics doesn’t tell the whole story. Palmer plays in a pass-heavy offense and has three fantastic receivers to throw to, including perennial Pro Bowler Larry Fitzgerald. He also has an excellent offensive line, giving him more time in the passing pocket.
Brady had a good supporting cast to start the season, but deserves a tremendous amount of credit for how well he’s performed despite injuries along his offensive line, and to four of his best offensive weapons. Despite his teammates’ afflictions, Brady has managed to put up incredible numbers, and lead the Patriots to one of the best records in the NFL.
Newton on the other hand, never had much of a supporting cast to begin with. His offensive line has been a work-in-progress all year, and his best receiver, Ted Ginn Jr., likely wouldn’t crack the starting lineup on most NFL rosters.
Newton also plays in a run-based offense. Only the Seattle Seahawks have run the ball more than the Panthers this season, and Carolina ranks in the bottom third of the league in pass attempts. Meanwhile, New England and Arizona both rank in the top three in passing attempts this year. Newton benefits from an elite tight end in Greg Olsen, but Brady has had an even better one in Rob Gronkowski for most of the season.
Most notably, Newton adds a lot with his legs. He leads all quarterbacks in rushing yards this season, and is tied for sixth among all NFL players in rushing touchdowns with seven. His running ability makes him a nightmare for opposing defenses, and is one of the reasons he has led the Panthers to their third straight division title this year.
If any of these three players win the award, it will be well deserved. However, Newton has done the most with the least this season, and has the Panthers being talked about as a legitimate Super Bowl contender for the first time in over a decade.
While many players have been valuable to their teams, Newton has been the most valuable, and he should win this year’s honor for his remarkable season.
Brandon Niles is a longtime fan of football and scotch, and has been writing about sports for the past decade. He is a fantasy football scout for 4for4 Fantasy Football and is co-host of the 2 Guys Podcast.