NFC South watch: Cam Newton and Tony Gonzalez are overrated?

CHARLOTTE, NC - DECEMBER 24: Cam Newton #1 of the Carolina Panthers throws a pass to set the NFL record for passing yards as a rookie during the game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Bank of America Stadium on December 24, 2011 in Charlotte, North Carolina (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

The news is slowing down, which means we have some time to look at the rest of the division rather than focusing solely on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. That's when we turn to ESPN, who have graciously published an article (Insider) by KC Joiner on the most overrated players in the NFC. Two NFC South players appear on the list: Cam Newton and Tony Gonzalez.

This impacted Newton as much as anyone, as he threw for 374 or more yards in three of his first four games. Once defenses started to get up to speed, however, Newton wasn't close to as effective a passer, throwing for 208 or fewer yards in five of his last six games.

These defensive adjustments are a main reason why Newton came up short in the areas of vertical yards per attempt (10.5, tied for 21st) and stretch vertical yards per attempt (12.6, tied for 17th). (Note: vertical passes are aerials thrown 11 or more yards downfield; stretch vertical passes are thrown 20 or more yards)

Newton also came up well short in ESPN's Total QBR metric (56.6, ranked 16th) and he posted a 4.2 percent bad decision rate (BDR) that was the fifth-highest mark in that category last season. (Note: BDR measures how often a quarterback makes a mental error that leads either to a turnover or a near-turnover such as a dropped interception)

That's an interesting observation, but one I'd disagree with. Yes, Newton was a little erratic with his accuracy toward the end of the season and he needs to work on his fundamentals, but what he did in his rookie year was still unprecedented. And it's not because he could run the ball: that was just a complement to the foundation of his play, which was the pass. Newton has a phenomenal arm, did a good job avoiding the rush and extending plays within the pocket, and produced a ton of explosive plays. Yes, playing with Steve Smith helps - but he helped Smith, too. Overall, Cam Newton really, truly scares me - perhaps more than Drew Brees and certainly more than Matt Ryan.

The bit on Tony Gonzalez is a little less interesting, as the conclusion is really obvious: Gonzalez is really old and not the player he used to be.

It's hard to justify someone making the Pro Bowl when he ranked tied for 23rd in YPA (7.6) and was one of the least productive high-volume vertical targets at his position (9.9 VYPA, ranked 12th out of 17 tight ends with at least 30 vertical targets). Had Fred Davis not been suspended for the last four games of the regular season, it's quite likely he would have been selected for the Pro Bowl over Gonzalez, as he had a better overall YPA (9.4, ranked sixth among tight ends) and VYPA (11.7).

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