A “By the Numbers” article by Karen B – Special to the Huddle
Cam Newton had the best-ever QB rating for the Carolina Panthers in 2015
Can he keep up such success? Some statistics help us examine that question:
As part of my Carolina Panthers 2015 “Season-in-Review” analysis I’ve been browsing through lots of the team’s statistics using the great charting feature at Sporting Charts which automatically creates graphs for various statistics over the course of the team’s history.
One graph caught my eye this morning. The Panthers QB rating over the course of the franchise history:
Carolina Panthers Quarterback Rating 1995 – 2015:
If I’d thought about it, it probably should have been obvious that Cam Newton’s 2015 performance would have produced the best-ever season QB rating for the Panthers, but still it was a surprise to see just how huge a jump the team’s QB rating took. The cliche “he took his game to a whole new level” in this case is very very true.
Carolina is entering new territory as a franchise with Cam. Basically the Carolina Panthers have never had a good, young, healthy QB in the prime of his career who has already excelled but still has room to improve. For those who may be somewhat recent Panthers fans like myself, it’s a good exercise to go back and look at Carolina Panthers QB history to add a little bit more context to the data points on that graph above:
Panthers QB History 1995 – 2015 (Data from PFR & Sporting Charts)
Exp = experience; GS = games started, QBR = Quarterback rating
A few highlights / lowlights:
- Kerry Collins hit the skids after 3 seasons due to his drinking problem and asked to be let go at age 26
- Steve Beuerlein played well for the Panthers, but they pulled the plug on him at age 35 for the rookie, Chris Weinke who proved a disaster.
- Jake Delhomme had a great career with the Panthers, but was already in his 4th season at age 28 when he started with the team, and eventually injuries derailed his career at age 33 / 34.
- Jimmy Clausen… well, it would be easy to say he was a disaster, except largely thanks to him Carolina ended up with the #1 pick of the 2011 draft and picked Cam Newton.
A few things strike me about the graph and table:
Cam started at a MUCH higher level than any other Panthers rookie QB. In terms of his QB rating, in fact, he started at a level close to that of the BEST performances of Delhomme and Beuerlein. Here’s that table above sorted in order of QB ranking from best to worst:
Compare Cam’s rookie year to that of Collins or Clausen. Yikes! And Cam was younger than both of them!
I wasn’t following the Panthers closely in 2011, so I hadn’t really realized that in terms of QBR, Cam’s rookie performance was higher than the team’s QBR for some of the team’s best and most successful seasons: 2003, 1996, 2008. So Cam is STARTING from a very high level. All five of his seasons so far rank among the Carolina Panthers’ top 8 seasons in terms of QB performance. Very nice!
Secondly, apart from the slight dip in his QBR in 2014 due to injuries (and also a terrible Oline for the 1st 2/3rds of the season), Cam has shown improvement every year. The improvement from 2011 – 2013 was steady. A slight increase in QBR each year. Then the slight setback in 2014. But then, BOOM a huge jump in his level of play and an MVP season…
So that leaves us with THE BIG QUESTION: What’s realistic in terms of expectations for Cam’s performance going forward? Should we expect a “regression to the mean” and think that 2015 was a blip and a jump in his performance that can’t be sustained? Well, even Cam’s “mean” for 2011 – 2015 is pretty dang good, so even if that were to happen, the team might still thrive…
But, I’d argue no. There’s no obvious reason to expect such a decline. Cam is healthy. He’s young. The Panthers have continuity on the Oline, which was solid in 2015. They have continuity in scheme, coaching. The team should have MORE / better weapons on offense in 2016 with the return of Kelvin Benjamin and the improvement of Devin Funchess. Why should we expect a decline in Cam’s performance?
To give me context and help measure my expectations, I found it helpful to take that same Year-by-Year Panthers QB rating chart and add to it the data for the Patriots and the Packers (another very nice feature of Sporting Charts). Here’s what that graph looks like:
Team QB rating by year since 1990. Blue line = Panthers, Green Line = New England, Red Line = Green Bay
The comparison is quite striking. It makes me realize how rarely anything close to CONSISTENT elite QB play has been seen in Carolina. QBs such as Rodgers and Brady have managed to maintain a very high level of performance over time. Now that he’s reached such a level of play, is there any reason to think Cam can’t maintain a similarly high level going forward? I can’t really come up with one. If Cam maintains a QBR in at least the mid 90s for the next few seasons, I think the team really will be in a golden age… And if he can continue to improve, as Cam, Rivera and Gettleman all believe, perhaps the Panthers will be setting up camp in “the Promised Land” Dave Gettleman talked about when extending Cam’s contract a year ago.