Cam Newton is reportedly returning to New England on a one-year $14 million deal, per Adam Schefter. The move gives Bill Belichick a starting quarterback option as the team prepares to navigate free agency and the upcoming NFL Draft.
We shouldn’t necessarily assume that Newton’s return will keep the organization from selecting a quarterback in the draft or bringing one in via free agency. Clearly Newton is an option to start Week 1, so let's break down the fantasy football implications of Superman’s return to New England.
BOUNCEBACK FOR CAM?
Signing Newton last year looked like a stroke of genius after the former MVP threw for nearly 400 yards against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 2. Newton's team-friendly deal appeared to be yet another example of the Patriots outsmarting the NFL's other 31 teams.
During the first three weeks of the season, Newton averaged nearly 24 points per game (seventh). He then missed time due to COVID-19 and seemingly never returned to form.
Newton's overall play fell off dramatically as the season progressed. From Week 1-9, he earned a 76.5 PFF grade (11th) with 7.4 yards per attempt. Those numbers fell to 55.8 and 7.0 from Week 10 on.
Per PFF’s QB Annual, Newton finished as the worst-ranked quarterback in accuracy-plus percentage, a metric that considers ball placement relative to a receiver's position (in front of the receiver, behind the receiver, etc.).
Newton finished the season as the QB26 in fantasy points per game (15.7), tied with Matthew Stafford. The fantasy production was certainly disappointing, but his expected fantasy points per game tell a different story.
Newton finished as the QB17 in expected fantasy points per game (18.1), which is much more predictive of what we can expect in the future. His role as the team’s goal-line back was unparalleled.
Newton led all QBs in rushing TDs (12) and carries inside the 5-yard line (22). His total number of carries inside the 5 was twice as many as the next-closest QB (Josh Allen, 11) and tied Kenyan Drake for third-most among all players.
That rushing upside combined with the likelihood that the Patriots upgrade their offensive supporting cast makes Newton the quintessential late-round QB to target in fantasy drafts. New England has the fourth-most available cap space to utilize in free agency and is armed with the 15th overall pick.
The Patriots had by far the worst receiving corps in the league last year. It's one reason why Newton's throwing and accuracy numbers were so bad.
I think Newton can still be a fantasy force in Year 2 of the system with upgraded offensive playmakers. Give Cam playmakers and he'll give you a top-12 fantasy season.
Newton is currently being drafted as the QB32 on Underdog Best Ball Drafts. That’s what I call a value.
OTHER OFFENSIVE PIECES
Even with Newton regaining fantasy relevance, I'm not convinced the success will trickle down to other Pats skill players.
The Patriots run the ball too much for any receiver to have consistent value. New England attempted 200 fewer passes in 2020 than in 2019 — by far the biggest drop-off in the league.
So even though Jakobi Meyers finished the year 12th in average yards per route run (2.24), his volume on a weekly basis is going to be all over the place. I can’t imagine him being anything more than a WR3, especially considering the likely added competition for targets.
Damien Harris isn’t much of a winner with this news, either, even though Newton’s threat as a runner will help Harris maintain his above-average efficiency from last season. Harris was one of the lone bright spots for the Patriots in 2021, finishing the season as PFF’s third-highest-graded running back (86.9).
The major downside with Harris is that he isn’t likely to see many opportunities to scored TDs. He'll have to hope for an expanded role in the passing game to be fantasy relevant in 2021. James White is a free agent, so there should be some opportunity there. Still, even with White gone, it’s hard to rely on Harris as a stable pass-catcher with a mobile QB under center.