Last season alone probably eliminated about 60-70 percent of the Cam Newton doubters. I was personally one of those people who realized that Newton has made some type of a change. He’s no longer the type of player who sulks around after a loss, but instead he’s taken on the role of being a leader for his Carolina Panthers teammates.
Newton made us believe in him and believe in the Panthers last season, as he took them from a 1-3 start to what was an astonishing turnaround. This is a team that won the NFC South over a strong New Orleans Saints team and won 11 of their final 12 games to finish at 12-4 while looking like an elite NFC team.
If you thought last year was big for Newton, though, this year is going to be even bigger. If he’s able to overcome the fact that the team is looking at basically a completely new group of wide receivers and get them back to the playoffs, then there’s no more doubting by anyone.
The Panthers parted ways with not only their longtime wideout Steve Smith, but also receivers Brandon LaFell, Ted Ginn Jr. and even Domenik Hixon. Although Hixon only brought in seven catches, he was at least familiar with Newton and the offense. The rest of the receivers though? Ginn had 36 catches and turned into a playmaker for this team; LaFell caught 49 passes and Smith caught 64 passes.
If there’s a bright spot through all of this for Panthers fans, it’s the fact that Greg Olsen began to excel last season, bringing in 73 receptions for 816 yards and six touchdowns.
The confusion in Carolina really started to set in after we saw the different free agent wide receivers all landing with other teams. Eric Decker went to the New York Jets, James Jones to the Oakland Raiders, DeSean Jackson to the Washington Redskins and Hakeem Nicks to the Indianapolis Colts, just to name a few.
That is quite a list of solid wide receivers who the Panthers decided to pass on.
Instead of signing any of the players above, the team brought in tight end Ed Dickson along with wideouts Jerricho Cotchery, Jason Avant and Tiquan Underwood. Even in a best case scenario, the Panthers take a wide receiver with their first-round pick, even though they need a whole lot of help to protect Newton still. Regardless of how the draft plays out, that’s a total of at least four players that Newton will have to familiarize himself with.
To top everything off for Newton, he’s coming off of left ankle surgery and likely won’t be ready to throw until training camp. If that is the case then Newton will have a very limited amount of time to get on the same page with his new receivers.
Thinking about the Panthers’ offense and what Newton has to work with isn’t incredibly enticing or exciting, but it would just make his story even sweeter if he’s able to prove doubters wrong and lead Carolina back to the postseason.