Panthers' Rivera: Newton 'certainly deserves the opportunity'

For any Panthers fan who endured Carolina's punchless 2010 campaign, this season has been nothing short of a revelation.

Much of the credit for the Panthers' transformation from NFL afterthought to one of the league's most explosive teams can be given to rookie sensation Cam Newton. The addition of Newton, who's combined for 28 total touchdowns, has turned an offense that ranked dead last in the NFL in nearly every offensive category into the league's fifth ranked offense.

While Newton is considered the front-runner for offensive rookie of the year, Panthers coach Ron Rivera said Thursday Newton deserves a spot in January's Pro Bowl.

"I think in light of everything he's done and gone through, that young man has proven himself," Rivera told the Charlotte Observer. "It's another step in the process of his development. I think he most certainly deserves the opportunity. There are a lot of deserving players in this league as to who should go to the Pro Bowl and who shouldn't.

"I do believe what he's done this year speaks for itself and speaks for what we've done offensively. I just think the young man has been tremendous."

In just 12 games, Newton broke the NFL record for most rushing touchdowns in a single season by a quarterback with 13 TDs, and his 3,379 passing yards rank ninth in the league.

Newton currently sits behind Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees -- but ahead of Tony Romo and Eli Manning -- in fan voting for NFC quarterbacks, which counts for one-third of the selection process. Player and coach voting make up the remaining two-thirds.

Panthers wideout Steve Smith, who also recently said Tim Tebow doesn't compare to Newton, said he supported Newton's candidacy.

"He's played extremely well. He's done a great job as a rookie," Smith said. "The NFC is tight. It's a tight race. Sometimes as a rookie, you kind of get overlooked because they say, 'Well, see if you can do it again.' ... You have to build your resume."

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