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Wednesday, October 26, 2011
No shyness downfield for rookie Newton

By Hank Gargiulo

If anyone thought Cam Newton was going to be timid about throwing downfield during his rookie season, think again.

Cam Newton
Newton
Newton has been the most aggressive quarterback this year throwing downfield. The average length of his passes from the line of scrimmage is 10.3 yards, the highest of any qualified passer in the NFL.

Stretching back a few seasons, Newton also stands as the most aggressive rookie quarterback in downfield throws since 2008 (minimum 100 attempts). His downfield average per attempt is a full yard ahead of the next closest rookie in that span -- New York Jets QB Mark Sanchez (9.3 air yards in 2009).

Newton's aggressiveness has helped rejuvenate one of the veterans of his receiving corps.

A quick glance at the league's top receivers, in terms of yardage, quickly reveals Steve Smith has benefited most from Newton's downfield throws.

Smith's 818 receiving yards tops the league, easily surpassing his 2010 season total of 554 receiving yards despite still being shy of this season's halfway point.

On throws of 15 yards downfield or more, Smith leads all receivers in targets (31) and receptions (17). And he's yet to drop a ball in such situations.

Newton's boldness downfield shouldn't come as a shock.

Auburn’s Heisman Trophy winner averaged 11 yards per pass attempt from the line of scrimmage in 2010, the fourth-highest average of the 34 college quarterbacks with at least 100 scouted attempts last year (Tyrod Taylor, Jacory Harris and Stephen Morris ranked ahead of him).

Predictably, he hasn't had quite the same level of success downfield as a pro compared to his days as an amateur. His completion percentage and yards per attempt on deep throws is down.

However, he's still finding his way on shorter throws, with six of his nine interceptions this year coming on throws traveling fewer than 15 yards.

Newton's current Total QBR of 57.5 would be the second highest by a rookie quarterback (minimum 250 action plays) since the start of the 2008 season behind Matt Ryan (70.7).

If he can keep his Total QBR above 50, he'd join Ryan as the only rookie to finish a season with a QBR above 50.

Looking ahead to Sunday, if Newton can find enough time to look downfield against a Minnesota Vikings defense tied for the league lead in sacks, he should find openings.

The Vikings have allowed 7.9 yards per pass attempt this season, tied for the eighth-highest rate in the NFL.