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Let’s Stop Overrating the 12

Does leading the league in rushing touchdowns make Cam Newton a valuable quarterback? Not without a passing game.

Cam Newton by Keith Allison is licensed under CC BY SA-2.0

Let’s Stop Overrating the 12

Estimated Reading Time: 4 Minutes
If you want to subject yourself to it, here’s every Cam Newton rushing TD from his days in Carolina. Be warned – each one comes with an excessive celebration.

Patriots fans who like that Cam Newton is back with the team are few and far between. But those who do are quick to point to several things as to why they think that the veteran QB re-signing with New England will not be a repeat of last year’s disaster.

Among those reasons, none of which I agree with, include Newton having a full offseason with the playbook and a true training camp and preseason to get on the same page with his teammates. Pro-Newtonites (Newtonians?) also point to the fact that he will have a full year to recover from Covid-19, which apparently affects his throwing ability.

One of the most annoying rationales that is being pushed, in my opinion, is the reminder that Cam Newton ran for 12 touchdowns last season. Somehow this is supposed to validate him as a viable option and make the non-believer see the light in putting him back under center.

Yes, it’s true that Newton led the league in rushing touchdowns last season, but that is not enough to overshadow his shortcomings as a passer.

Successful running quarterbacks do not exist without also having the passing ability to keep them on the field.

As an example, let’s take Kyler Murray of the Arizona Cardinals. Murray rushed for 11 touchdowns last year, just one shy of Newton’s mark. However, while Newton threw for just eight touchdowns and 2,657 yards, Murray tossed 26 scores and nearly 4,000 yards of offense.

Even with one less rushing TD, Murray rushed for over 800 yards, more than 200 yards ahead of Newton, who didn’t crack 600 rushing yards.

Lamar Jackson, who rushed for a league-high (among QBs) 1,005 yards and seven touchdowns, also threw 26 TDs a year ago.

You know who did run for 8 touchdowns while only throwing four? Taysom Hill. A gadget player who lines up all over the field and is barely a QB. (You have to scroll down past rushing and receiving stats on Football Reference to even find his passing stats).

Is that who the comp for Cam Newton should be if he’s the starting QB of the Patriots?

Hill attempted only 121 passes last year, completing 88 of them (72.7%) and averaging a touchdown every 30 pass attempts. Newton, on the other hand, went 242-368 (65.8%) and only found the end zone once every 46 passes.

There’s a name for QB’s who can only find the end zone on the ground – they’re called running backs.

Newton’s not even a good running back. Yes, he was third in the league among quarterbacks with 592 rushing yards. But he did so on 137 attempts, an average of 4.3 yards per rush.

Here are the rushing averages for the over quarterbacks in the top ten in total rush yards:

Lamar Jackson – 6.32
Kyler Murray – 6.16
Russell Wilson – 6.18
Taysom Hill – 5.25
Deshaun Watson – 4.93
Daniel Jones – 6.51
Josh Allen – 4.13
Jalen Hurts – 5.67
Patrick Mahomes – 4.97

Only Josh Allen had a worse average than Newton, and he threw for 37 touchdowns. The other guys with averages under 5.00? Watson and Mahomes, who tossed 33 and 38 touchdowns, respectively.

Newton’s lack of rushing explosiveness is obvious in his rushing touchdown yards. Here are the yardages for his 12 rushing TD’s this year: 4, 11, 1, 1, 1, 2, 5, 1, 4, 1, 2, 9.

That’s 42 total yards to get 12 touchdowns, meaning the average yardage of his touchdown rushes was 3.5 yards.

Newton wasn’t making plays with his feet. He was punching in goal-line carries instead of handing them off to a running back.

I probably could have converted five of those touchdowns if they were blocked well.

The 2020 season is not an anomaly.

Over the course of the past decade, running quarterbacks have almost exclusively been able to throw as well. Here are the quarterbacks who rushed for the most touchdowns each season, and how many touchdown passes they threw.

YearRush TD LeaderRush TDsPassing TDs
2019Josh Allen920
2018Josh Allen810
2017Cam Newton622
2017Dak Prescott622
2016Dak Prescott623
2016Tyrod Taylor617
2015Cam Newton1035
2014Russell Wilson620
2013Cam Newton624
2013Geno Smith612
2012Cam Newton819
2011Cam Newton1421

The only notable exception here is Josh Allen in 2018. However, that was his rookie season and he only played in 12 games, with 11 starts. Since then, he has rushed for 9 and 8 touchdowns in the past two years, and thrown for 20 and 37 in the same period.

Cam Newton himself is the best watermark for what a running quarterback should be able to accomplish through the air. Newton has led the league in QB rushing TDs five times, not including last year. Each time, he paired his rushing scores with 19+ passing TDs. He averaged 24.2 passing touchdowns in those years.

Eight passing touchdowns isn’t gonna cut it, even with 12 on the ground.

You can’t succeed with a running back playing quarterback.

It hasn’t happened in the past, because quarterbacks who can’t throw don’t generally get enough playing time to rack up rushing touchdowns and they shouldn’t. Newton shouldn’t.

The rushing TD number is not a valid point for Cam Newton in the argument about whether he should be the Patriots quarterback this year.

If anything, when lined up against his passing TD stats, it is possibly the most damning evidence against Newton.

Craig has spent the last ten years as a sports information professional, working for several schools across New England at the Division 3 level. A native of Peabody, Mass., Craig is a life-long Boston sports fan. He is also an avid player of fantasy football and baseball, and commissioner of the AKA Family Fantasy Football League. Like most other Turf team members, Craig has a penchant for theater, spending his high school and college years as a set designer, sound designer and theater shop worker. He became a father shortly before the coronavirus pandemic, and as such, hasn't really left his home since last December.

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