Commentary

Does Cam Newton have fantasy value?

Updated: August 31, 2011, 5:11 PM ET
By Christopher Harris | ESPN.com

Is Cam Newton a candidate to be a No. 2 fantasy QB this year?

32 Questions

Cam Newton's preseason performance against the Cincinnati Bengals last Thursday was a quart of sour milk with a spoonful of sugar sprinkled in.

Throwing the ball, Newton was every bit as disastrous as his detractors (hi!) warned. He went 6-of-19 for 75 yards, and it didn't even look that good. His first completion nearly got Steve Smith beheaded over the middle. By my accounting, five of Newton's six completions came on short-ish throws over the middle (only a catch-and-run by Greg Olsen was outside the numbers). Otherwise, it was a series of misreads and poor throws, leaving Newton's completion percentage through three games at a woeful 40.4 percent. Smith had eight targets in basically three quarters of work but caught only that one pass. Newton doesn't seem to notice whether his intended receivers are double-covered, and even when he sees a man breaking open, he shows little touch or accuracy.

But the sugar was pretty sweet. Newton had two bullying, alluring runs that make you realize his size and speed can translate to the NFL. First, he scrambled right, cut inside to avoid two tacklers and simply lowered his head and rolled over Bengals corner Morgan Trent -- a man he outweighs by 55 pounds -- for a touchdown. Later, from deep in his territory, Newton saw the Cincy defensive backs turn away from him, giving him a huge open field that he took advantage of, again putting his foot in the ground hard and making safety Gibril Wilson miss, and winding up with a 26-yard gain.

[+] EnlargeNewton
Frank Victores/US PresswireCam Newton's running skills are fantasy worthy, but his passing skills are still a work in progress.

That's the dilemma with Newton right now, and methinks it'll be his issue for years to come. It's also not breaking news: As a rusher, Newton has skills, but as a thrower, he shows no evidence of being anywhere close to even average NFL ability. He doesn't see the defense. He doesn't improvise well. He doesn't throw it where he should. It's painfully obvious. So obvious that I think if the Panthers stick with Newton all season, they're going to be in the running for the No. 1 overall pick again.

But stick with Newton they will, at least for a while. And that brings up the fantasy football implications. No, Newton won't help many fantasy teams with his arm. But those legs could be a different story, right? After all, this summer the fantasy world was momentarily abuzz with the sneaky possibility of rating Tim Tebow as a top-20 fantasy QB, using almost exactly this same scenario. Everyone knew Tebow wouldn't be a fantasy asset throwing it, but why couldn't he easily rush for more than the six TDs he scored in 2010 in a part-time role? In Tebow's case, sanity prevailed before September reared its head. I still think he'll probably start some games this season, because the Broncos should be pretty bad. But Kyle Orton will be under center to start the year, rendering Tebow undraftable.

In Newton's case, there's no viable proven veteran alternative on the Panthers' roster (no, Derek Anderson doesn't count). So Carolina will lumber into the season with a guy who just isn't ready to be a pro passer. But he can score TDs, can't he? Sure. Yes. Yes, I think if he stays in the lineup for 16 games, Newton has a better-than-even chance to surpass Tebow's six scores from '10. But is that enough for him to be your fantasy backup? I tend to think not. Best-case scenario, say he rushes for a touchdown in half the Panthers' games. Terrific. If you're fortunate enough to have your starter's bye in one of those games, you might squeak out a win by virtue of those extra six points. Under such a scenario, Newton is likely to at least give you low-double-digit fantasy points. But what if you start him in one of the weeks where he doesn't run into the end zone? Yikes. In a fantasy football world where the average starting QB gives you 15-plus fantasy points, I don't believe Newton's arm is ready to give you more than half that. And that's to say nothing of the possibility that Jimmy Clausen could see action if and when the Panthers start slow, simply to try to give the rookie a breather.

Maybe I'm wrong, and maybe Newton is a better thrower than I saw last Thursday. (His numbers in Week 2 of the preseason, against the Miami Dolphins, were a bit better: 7-of-14 for 66 yards.) But I don't think the sum total of what we've seen so far means Newton merits a draft pick in a 10-team league. You're allowed to watch with interest and to consider adding him off the waiver wire if and when he looks better. All I know is this: In a 10- or even a 12-team league, I'd feel awfully jittery about rolling into a season knowing that Newton has to be my fill-in, either in my starter's bye week or because of injury. As intriguing as his legs look, they probably won't be enough to create starter-worthy fantasy numbers.

Christopher Harris is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He is a six-time Fantasy Sports Writers Association award winner. You can ask him questions at www.facebook.com/writerboy.