Cam Newton burst onto the scene with back-to-back 400-yard passing games and continues to put up great numbers, though his Panthers are 1-4. Andy Dalton, meanwhile, hasn't been as splashy statistically but his Bengals are 3-2. Which rookie QB's performance has been more impressive through five weeks?
Both have been awfully impressive, overcoming the lack of organized offseason work and starting from day one. Equally impressive has been the coaching staffs installing offenses that play to their young QBs' strengths. But while Andy Dalton deserves full marks for playing well, showing toughness and leading his team to its 3-2 record, what Cam Newton is doing could not have been foreseen. And his 1-4 record is misleading, since two of those losses came to arguably the two best teams, Green Bay and New Orleans.
Not to take anything from Dalton, but he is playing with one of the best defenses in the NFL, which is a young quarterback's best friend. The Bengals also have played against Cleveland, Denver (a game they should have won), San Francisco, Buffalo (they handed the Bills their only loss) and Jacksonville.
Newton has thrown for seven TDs and rushed for five more against Arizona, Green Bay, Jacksonville, Chicago and New Orleans. That's a rough schedule. Newton also has had much more of the onus on him, whereas Dalton has had help. Both players look like they're going to be good and I really like the Dalton-A.J. Green tandem, which could be special for years.
What's not to like about both rookie quarterbacks? Dalton is a winner and has a terrific presence on the field. He's good enough right now that the Bengals should trade Carson Palmer before next Tuesday's deadline. As for Cam Newton, he is so impressive and eventually can reach elite quarterback status. He is on pace for rookie numbers that don't come along very often. Barring injury, he should throw for over 4,500 yards and 20 touchdowns, and he'll probably rush for close to 500 yards and 15 more scores. If I had to pick one rookie QB, it would be Cam Newton.
Cincy fans are no doubt over the moon about the prospect of watching Dalton throw to the spectacular A.J. Green and Jermaine Gresham for the next half-dozen or so years, but if I'm forced to choose, I'll take Newton. He's a younger, faster Ben Roethlisberger, not only able to run away from pressure, but also big enough to let pass rushers bounce off him and still make a throw downfield. Kudos to the Panthers personnel department for ignoring the negative noise around Newton before the draft. That puts 'em at break-even in my ledger after their woeful decision to bring back DeAngelo Williams for a loony amount of loot.
Cam Newton's performance outranks all other rookies despite his record. As the No. 1 overall pick, the expectations are through the roof and he is one of the few players in history to exceed those high standards. His efficiency and production have been remarkable for a first-year player not given the benefit of a full offseason. He has overcome the endless criticism about his character, intelligence and ability to transition from a spread offense to a conventional pro system. With his play already placing him among the game's elite passers in terms of production, he should be viewed as the top choice among his peers regardless of his won-loss record.