Cam Newton was voted the best player in the NFL, and he's still wildly underrated

For the Win

He was voted NFL MVP nearly unanimously. He won the Offensive Player of the Year award and landed on the AP’s All-Pro team. On Wednesday, he was revealed as No. 1 on NFL Network’s Top 100 Players of 2016, a list voted on by the players.

And, despite all of those accolades, Cam Newton is still underrated.

He’s not underrated in the traditional sense. You could make the argument Newton is actually a bit overrated, at least by the NFL players who voted him as the best player in the league. But the league’s MVP still does get nearly enough credit for being the well-rounded quarterback he has developed into over his five-year career.

Just take a look at the segment on Newton from the Top 100 show:

If you don’t have time to watch it, here are the cliffnotes: There’s talk of his dancing, his ability to scramble and how hard he is to stop on the goal line. You know, the topics you expect from any discussion about Cam. After all, those are the elements that separate him from most quarterbacks.

At the same time, those extraordinary traits aren’t necessarily the reason Newton has developed into an MVP caliber passer. It’s his ever-growing command of the Panthers offense (before and after the snap), recognition of coverages and comfort in the pocket that has elevated him into that stratosphere.

It’s been overshadowed by the more brutish aspects of his game, but Newton has grown into a cerebral player. Watch any Panthers game and you’ll see him constantly tinkering with protections and altering receivers’ routes to exploit the vulnerabilities he sees in a defense before the snap, freedom the Panthers coaches have wisely afforded him in recent years.

“On nearly 70% of the offensive calls, [Ron] Rivera estimates, Newton has the ability to choose the play,” Jenny Vrentas wrote last season for The MMQB. “Coordinator Mike Shula will send in a formation and a handful of play calls, and then it’s up to Newton to adjust the alignment of the skill-position players, call for motions and pick the play he thinks has the best chance of success against the defensive look. ‘It’s not much different than what you have seen with Peyton Manning in terms of being out of the shotgun, having to look at defenses and make determinations,’ Rivera says.”

Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Even during his MVP campaign, when everyone seemed to fall in love with Newton, he was never given credit for being the type of player who could beat you with his mind. Why is that? Our pre-conceived notions on how that type of quarterback looks has certainly contributed to the ignorance, a point Newton made back in January.

“I’ve said it since Day 1, I’m an African-American quarterback,” Newton said before Super Bowl 50. “That may scare a lot of people because they haven’t seen nothing that they can compare me to.”

It’s an uncomfortable fact that most would like to ignore, but the term “African-American quarterback” carries with it certain connotations; we see a black quarterback and just jump to the conclusion he is a great athlete who is probably raw in the pocket. And it can be difficult for black quarterbacks to transcend that initial scouting report — especially for those players, like Cam, who are great athletes — and be seen as a more traditional “field general.”

It gets even more difficult for Newton, who is unabashedly black, which, despite all the evidence to the contrary, has left him pigeonholed as an exceptionally gifted athlete who won’t have a Plan B when his athleticism starts to wane.

Newton will do what every other great quarterback has done when their athletic prime passes them by: Fall back on experience and guile.

Whether that’s shrewdly manipulating safeties with his eyes to open up passing lanes…

Or subtly working the pocket to buy himself just enough time to get to the third read in his progression…

Or recognizing a blitz, changing the play and shredding it for a touchdown…

At 27, Newton is already showing the characteristics of the quarterbacks we deify for their minds and total command of an offense. Newton may not look or act like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, but he has a lot more in common with them than he’ll ever get credit for.

Cam Newton was voted the best player in the NFL, and he's still wildly underrated

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