Last week, in preparation for my NFL Podium Awards series, I asked several NFL coaches, executives and scouts to name their top three quarterbacks heading into the 2012 season. The same names came up over and over again. Almost everyone had some combination of Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers, while a few others mentioned Eli Manning or Ben Roethlisberger. However, one executive shocked me when he listed Cam Newton as the third best quarterback in the NFL. I asked the question a second time to make sure that he heard me correctly. He didn't stutter when he repeated the same answer.
After letting that response soak in for a few days, I decided to poll 10 different front office executives and ask them where Cam Newton currently ranked among NFL quarterbacks. Here's what I discovered:
• All 10 executives were impressed with Newton's play during his rookie year with the Carolina Panthers. His numbers speak for themselves. He set an NFL rookie record by passing for 4,051 yards and he became the only quarterback in league history to toss for more than 4,000 yards and rush for more than 500 yards in the same season. His 14 rushing touchdowns also set a new single-season mark for NFL quarterbacks. He finished 2011 ranked 11th in passing touchdowns and second in rushing touchdowns, behind only LeSean McCoy. He surpassed everyone's expectations, including those inside the Panthers organization.
• Seven of the 10 executives said Newton was currently a top 10 quarterback in the NFL. Each of those seven executives spoke glowingly about Newton's talent level. One AFC executive mentioned his "ability to take over a game with both his arm and his legs," while another AFC executive credited Newton's "passion for the game and poise under pressure" as reasons why he has already attained top 10 status. An executive of a team that played Newton last season mentioned how difficult it was for his team to "get that big guy on the ground." Despite all this praise, however, none of these seven men ranked Newton as a top five quarterback heading into the 2012 season.
• The three executives who didn't list him in their top 10 had simple explanations. First, they said that he hasn't played enough. There just wasn't enough of a sample size to place him above other proven quarterbacks. Secondly, they mentioned that he has yet to lead his team to the postseason. Finally, they had concerns over Newton's accuracy and high number of interceptions.
My personal opinion
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I have Cam Newton ranked as the NFL's 10th best signal-caller heading into the 2012 season. The league is currently loaded at the position. Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning have all been the driving force on Super Bowl-winning teams. Peyton Manning is a wild-card because of his neck injury, but I still can't rank Newton over the four-time MVP and Super Bowl champion. Here's my list: