It worked not just as an opportunity to help boost the draft stock of his alma mater’s receivers, but also to show that he still had something to contribute at the NFL level.
Can Cam Newton still start in the NFL? pic.twitter.com/y3JFymR3Pe
— PFF (@PFF) March 21, 2023
While Netwon declined to speak to the media in Auburn, he made it clear how he felt beforehand: “Ain't 32 motherf***ers better than me,” Newton said in a video posted to Twitter.
Which begs the question: Are there 32 quarterbacks better than Cam Newton in the NFL right now?
The former No. 1 overall pick didn’t play a single snap in 2022. He wasn’t exactly a full-time starter in 2021, either, as he was signed off the street to rejoin the Carolina Panthers after Sam Darnold suffered a shoulder injury.
He ultimately went 0-5 during his second stint as the Panthers' starter, grading below 50.0 in three of those games and going 66-of-122 for 676 yards, three scores and five interceptions.
|Season||Team||Dropbacks||PFF Passing Grade||Rank|
|2020||Patriots||444||67.8||26th of 38|
|2018||Panthers||558||70.0||23rd of 39|
|2017||Panthers||641||67.7||T-25th of 31|
|2016||Panthers||596||69.4||T-22nd of 37|
|2015||Panthers||692||84.4||5th of 40|
|2014||Panthers||632||74.7||14th of 39|
|2013||Panthers||612||71.7||19th of 43|
|2012||Panthers||588||68.6||18th of 38|
|2011||Panthers||634||65.1||22nd of 38|
Newton’s last full season as a starter was with the New England Patriots in 2020, and he mostly struggled, throwing for 2,657 yards with just 8 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions. In fact, three of his eight touchdown passes that season came in the season finale against the Jets, long after both teams had been eliminated from postseason contention.
His 67.8 passing grade in 2020 ranked 26th out of 38 quarterbacks who played at least 20% of their team’s offensive snaps. That number would’ve ranked him 24th in 2022 among 41 quarterbacks under the same qualifier, almost identical to Matthew Stafford, who was dealing with an elbow injury all season.
As for his eight touchdown passes, only Kenny Pickett threw fewer (seven) in 2022 than Newton in 2020 among qualifying passers, and Pickett was just a rookie still figuring things out in the NFL — not in his 10th NFL season like Newton was at the time.
However, the 2015 NFL MVP was always better known for his running ability. Not only did he have 4.5 speed, but he was also 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds, making him difficult to bring down even if a defender did manage to grab hold of him. In 2020, Newton ranked third among quarterbacks in rushing yards (592) while leading his position group with 12 rushing scores.
Unfortunately, his 2021 season was poor by just about every standard, albeit on a much smaller sample size. His overall PFF grade finished at 53.3, which would have ranked ahead of only Ben Roethlisberger and Mike Glennon had he played enough snaps to qualify, and only Glennon had a lower passing grade than Newton’s 46.5. Newton's 73.8 rushing grade was the second highest of his career, though — even better than his MVP season.
Considering he turns 34 in May and his best years are most likely behind him, Newton would likely be a big-name backup should he sign with an NFL team.
Two possible fits are the Washington Commanders and Baltimore Ravens. Washington would not only provide an element of familiarity for Newton, as head coach Ron Rivera coached him for the majority of his time in Carolina, but they may have the largest hole at the quarterback position, as they are currently planning to start the 2023 season with 2022 fifth-rounder Sam Howell.
Unless the Commanders make another move at the position prior to the start of the season, such as trading up into the top five of the 2023 NFL Draft or adding another veteran via trade or free agency, Newton could be an option should Howell struggle.
Baltimore is also an intriguing option if they are unable to retain 2019 MVP Lamar Jackson. The Ravens favor a system that utilizes a mobile quarterback, as both Jackson and backup Tyler Huntley are excellent ball carriers. Should Jackson move on, Newton's skill set could land him at least a backup job to Huntley.
So, are there 32 NFL quarterbacks better than Cam Newton in 2023? Yeah, probably. But given Newton’s track record and unique abilities, he would be an upgrade over most teams’ backups.