Offensive player rankings, Week 4: Six quarterbacks in top 15

Kyle Allen didn't look like a quarterback making his second career start on Sunday. Instead, he looked natural operating under center in the Carolina Panthers' offense, completing 73.1 percent of his throws for four touchdowns and a 144.4 passer rating while leading the team to its first victory of the season.

The second-year pro is a pocket passer with good decision-making skills -- and, to be honest, he's a better fit for offensive coordinator Norv Turner's system than Cam Newton, who sat out Week 3 with a foot injury. NFL Network's Tom Pelissero reported Tuesday that the ailment is believed to be a Lisfranc injury which will keep Newton sidelined for a while. Since Turner's arrival in Carolina in 2018, Allen is 2-0 as a starter, while Newton is 6-10 (losing his last eight starts). Knowing this and watching these two quarterbacks in Turner's offense, I found myself wondering: If the Panthers continue to play well with Allen, should they automatically switch back to Newton when he's ready to return?

My answer: No.

There's a lot to unpack here, but the biggest factor is Newton's recent injury history, which included shoulder trouble last year. The most telling play that indicated Newton hasn't truly been himself in 2019 came back in Week 2, when the Panthers trailed by six points late in their eventual loss to the Bucs. On a fourth-and-1 at Tampa Bay's 2-yard line, Newton motioned to the right, and running back Christian McCaffrey took the direct snap, sprinted left and failed to get a touchdown or first down. Newton, the 2015 MVP who's logged three seasons with 700-plus rushing yards and two with 10-plus rushing touchdowns, wasn't even a thought on that play. That is hard to process, considering Newton is one of the top red-zone threats in the game when he's at his best.

"What Cam needs right now is time and rest for his foot," coach Ron Rivera said in a statement Monday. "We want him at 100 percent when he's ready, so there's no exact timetable for his return. At this point, we're going to go forward with Kyle as our starter."

At this point, it's fair to ask whether or not the 30-year-old Newton will be able to return to 100 percent after this foot injury and his shoulder issues. To me, 100 percent Cam Newton is the guy who stunned the league in 2015 with his incredible running ability and powerful downfield throws that led to a career-high 45 total touchdowns. I'm not so sure we will see that version of Cam Newton again.

Newton first injured his throwing shoulder (suffering a rotator cuff tear) late in the 2016 season, and eventually had surgery the following March. When Turner was hired as offensive coordinator in 2018, he began tweaking the QB's throwing technique, with the intention of improving Newton's completion percentage. It seemed to work, as Newton completed a career-high 67.9 percent of his passes last season. But midway through the campaign, Newton suffered another shoulder injury, playing through it until the final two weeks of the season. The Panthers shut him down in December, and he underwent surgery to clean up scar tissue in January. Newton spent this past offseason recovering and altering his throwing motion to take some strain off his shoulder.

In his two starts this season, though, Newton wasn't good -- there's just no other way to put it. He completed 56.2 percent of his passes (49 percent in the loss to the Bucs) with a 0:1 touchdown-to-INT ratio and six sacks. The most glaring stat: five rushing attempts for -2 yards. I've also watched Cam line up under center in I-formation, run play action, take a seven-step dropback, read coverage and throw downfield. That is the very last thing I would do with Newton. The head coach would have to come into my office specifically asking for that play, which I'd only put in after an hour-long conversation -- and I'd still be hesitant.

Newton's foot, first injured in the preseason, is taking away his greatest asset as a threat in the run game. And while the Panthers are attempting to prevent him from further injuring his shoulder by limiting his reps in practice and in the preseason, I'd guess that's exactly why he has been inaccurate. It's a vicious cycle, and I'm afraid his shoulder is what it is now: something that will hinder his ability as a passer and, in part, limit him in the run game as he tries to avoid getting hurt more than he already is.

Right now, I feel like I'm watching Superman in "Superman II," when he's just a regular guy after having his powers taken away. Right now, Cam is just a guy getting beaten up in a diner. I wouldn't be surprised if Carolina shuts Cam down again for the season, sending its star back to the ice palace to recharge and get his powers back.

Kyle Allen is the team's best option right now, and it might take Cam another offseason to get right. I wouldn't jeopardize the franchise quarterback's future by trying to get him back this season. Continue to roll with the rookie who plays well in Turner's system, and let Newton heal.

As the 2019 NFL season rolls on, former No. 1 overall pick and NFL Network analyst David Carr continues to rank his top 15 offensive players each week. For the first quarter of the season, the rankings are based on a combination of:

1) Player accomplishments prior to the 2019 season.
2) Weekly performances, while considering strength of opponent.

Rankings will be solely judged on this season's efforts following Week 4. With Week 3 already in the books, here is Carr's list:

NOTE: Arrows reflect changes from last week's rankings.

Patrick Mahomes
Kansas City Chiefs · QB

Mahomes' play continues to be out of this world. The third-year pro is on pace to repeat his MVP campaign through three weeks. If a defense as good as the Ravens can't stop him, which defense has a legit shot? As a former NFL quarterback, I love watching Mahomes play the position. I just wish he wasn't playing in the AFC West.

Russell Wilson
Seattle Seahawks · QB

The Seahawks' QB1 passed for over 400 yards (on 50 pass attempts) and rushed for another 50 in Sunday's loss to New Orleans. You should've seen him out there. He's doing everything for Seattle's offense -- which needs Chris Carson's fumble misfortunes to turn around -- and that's the problem. Wilson is 0-4 when he throws 45-plus times in a game. Next to Mahomes, Wilson might be the most valuable player to his team right now.

Ezekiel Elliott
Dallas Cowboys · RB

There was so much Zeke talk leading up to the season that it feels as if people have forgotten all about him now that he's back on the field. The lack of Zeke discussions is a little odd, considering the two-time league rushing leader is off to the best start of his career (55 carries for 289 rushing yards through Week 3). He posted his 21st career game with 100-plus yards against the Dolphins, and feeding him is smart on the Cowboys' part because they are 18-3 when Elliott rushes for 100 yards or more in a game.

Christian McCaffrey
Carolina Panthers · RB

McCaffrey rebounded from his down Week 2 performance with 153 rushing yards, 35 receiving yards and a TD catch against Arizona. The Cardinals had zero answers for the do-it-all running back, and McCaffrey even made some history Sunday as he became the seventh player -- and second running back (Reggie Bush) -- in the Super Bowl era to reach 200 career receptions in his first 35 games.

Tom Brady
New England Patriots · QB

Even at age 42, it doesn't matter who is or isn't on the field for New England. Brady will make it work and find a way to win. In Week 3, Brady was without Antonio Brown, who was released two days before Sunday's game with the Jets, and lost Julian Edelman in the second quarter, but Brady still got it done. Did I mention the run game added all of 68 yards. It was all Brady on offense.

DeAndre Hopkins
Houston Texans · WR

Hopkins made some big plays to boost the Texans' second-half comeback. It doesn't matter who's on Hopkins, the Texans receiver is always around the ball and giving his offense a chance, which is exactly what he did Sunday with a 34-yard catch-and-run to set up the go ahead touchdown late in the third quarter.

Julio Jones
Atlanta Falcons · WR

The Falcons*lost to the Colts*, but it wasn't because of their star receiver. Jones logged a touchdown reception Sunday for the seventh straight game (longest active streak) and had his 51st career game with 100-plus receiving yards. He's now tied for fourth-most in NFL history with Terrell Owens, Andre Johnson and Steve Smith Sr., and trails only Hall of Famers Marvin Harrison (59), Randy Moss (64) and Jerry Rice (76).

Alvin Kamara
New Orleans Saints · RB

Last week, I mentioned in this space that Kamara would have to step up for the Saints' offense. Kamara didn't just step up against the Seahawks -- he put the offense on his back (161 scrimmage yards) and took a ton of pressure off Teddy Bridgewater. These Saints might just be OK without Drew Brees for a while.

Dalvin Cook
Minnesota Vikings · RB

Mike Zimmer begged to run more last season and his wish finally came true. Turns out Zim knows what he's talking about. Limiting Kirk Cousins to 21 pass attempts and riding the legs of Cook has been the not-so-secret key for the Vikings. Three weeks into the 2019 season, Cook has three straight 100-yard rushing games after two total in his first two seasons combined.

Todd Gurley
Los Angeles Rams · RB

Gurley is becoming just a guy in the Rams' backfield, which is really unfortunate after what he did last year. But he stays in the top 15 because I'm still accounting for success in prior seasons through Week 4. If the Rams back doesn't step it up, he may spiral out of this list.

Travis Kelce
Kansas City Chiefs · TE

The Chiefs tight end had another solid outing with seven catches for 89 yards, but this offense isn't as dependent on him as it was before the Mahomes era. Don't get me wrong, he's a great player and one of the best at his position. He's just not THE guy in Kansas City anymore.

Aaron Rodgers
Green Bay Packers · QB

Rodgers is playing his best ball in the first quarter, with a 140.3 passer rating through three weeks. His performances have been solid and he's not playing at the level we've seen in the past. But the most telling thing about this 3-0 start is that Rodgers is buying into Matt LaFleur's offense by continuing to turn to the run game. Rodgers is averaging five pass attempts fewer through three weeks than he did last season.

Michael Thomas
New Orleans Saints · WR

It was apparent Sunday that Thomas and Teddy Bridgewater weren't always on the same page. Used to darts by Drew Brees, the Saints WR1 is going to have to adjust to Bridgewater's loftier throws going forward. That said, Thomas did get in the end zone for the first time this season with Bridgewater under center.

Dak Prescott
Dallas Cowboys · QB

He's enjoyed a heck of a start to his 2019 campaign, and Jerry Jones has noticed. Against the Dolphins, Prescott threw his ninth touchdown pass of the season -- a mark he didn't reach until Week 9 last year -- and led the Cowboys to 3-0 heading into a big test in New Orleans.

Lamar Jackson
Baltimore Ravens · QB

Per usual, Jackson made video game-like plays in the run game against the Chiefs, but he wasn't as efficient throwing the ball, completing 51.2 percent of his pass attempts for 267 yards and a 70.6 passer rating with zero TD passes. He has still been one of the better QBs in September, but the young QB needs consistency to hold his ranking here.

Dropping out: Saquon Barkley, RB, Giants (No. 2).


George Kittle, TE, 49ers: Kittle recorded his eighth straight game with at least 50 receiving yards Sunday against the Steelers. We know what he brings to the 49ers' offense as a pass catcher, but he deserves some major credit for his willingness to block.

Keenan Allen, WR, Chargers: Through three weeks, Allen leads the NFL with 29 receptions and 404 receiving yards (career-high 183 on Sunday). Especially without Melvin Gordon, Philip Rivers has leaned on Allen for big plays and the receiver routinely delivers.

Mike Evans, WR, Buccaneers: Evans had one of the best games of his impressive career Sunday with eight receptions for 190 yards and three TD catches. His final reception of the game put the Bucs in position to win their second straight game, but a missed kick as time expired made Daniel Jones the hero of the game. Not Evans.

T.Y. Hilton, WR, Colts: Before leaving the game in the second quarter with a quad injury, Hilton already had eight catches for 65 yards and a touchdown. With the touchdown reception, Hilton now leads the Colts with four, which is also the most through three weeks in his career.

Follow David Carr on Twitter @DCarr8.

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