Who Would You Rather Build a Franchise Around for the Next 10 Years: Cam or Russell?

Cam Newton + Russell Wilson

Image courtesy of theshadowleague.com

On Sunday, my roommate and I sat on our couch taking in Redzone for the final time this season. For 17 weeks we have remain transfixed week after week each Sunday by the riveting action that NFL Redzone provides. If you are a football fan and have not tasted the sweet nectar that is NFL Redzone, you are truly missing out on an opportunity to maximize your viewing experience across all relevant plays for every game. Hands down, Redzone beats the in-game experience…especially in December (this is a post for another day).

This past Sunday, the 1pm EST games left a bit to be desired. The only game that seemed to come down to the wire was the Carolina Panthers vs. the Atlanta Falcons intra-division contest. The Falcons squandered an opportunity to win the game in the final minute and a half with an unsightly sack of Matt Ryan as the Falcons were driving towards mid-field, needing only a field goal to win (similar to the previous week when Matt Ryan’s pass to Harry Douglas inside the 10-yard line caromed off of the receiver into the waiting hands of Navarro Bowman, who brought it 85+ yards back to the house to lock up the game). In the waning seconds, while Carolina sewed up an improbable 12-4 season (after starting the season 1-3), my roommate and I discussed the merits of who’s going to be a better quarterback: Cam Newton or Russell Wilson.

For all of the scrutiny that Cam Newton has been subjected to during his brief 1-year stay at Auburn and his three subsequent years in the NFL, there’s no denying that he is a precocious and dynamic talent. He’s one of the most explosive quarterbacks in the league, if not the most explosive playmaker with both his arm and his feet. I think pundits and experts forget that Cam Newton is still five months shy of his 25th birthday.

Meanwhile, Russell Wilson has been lauded and praised as having the poise of a 10-year veteran in the pocket and a supernatural sense of calm and leadership that is beyond his years (Wilson just turned 25 on November 29th). When discussing both of these young quarterbacks, my roommate and I had trouble determining which QB we would choose of the two to build a team around for the next decade.

Tom Brady + Peyton Manning

Courtesy of sportsofboston.com

With Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees all playing Pro Bowl level football deep into their 30’s (and Ben Roethlisberger, Philip Rivers and Eli Manning all playing at a high level as they approach their twilight years), it’s not an unrealistic thought to expect Russell Wilson and Cam Newton to play another 10-12 years at a high level barring an unforeseen, career altering injury.

My roommate and I agreed that Russell Wilson is steadier and commits fewer errors than Cam Newton (fewer interceptions, higher completion percentage and takes less sacks and negative plays). On the other hand, Cam Newton provides more upside in terms of explosive plays, turning negative plays into positive plays with his feet (although Wilson does this as well) and has the ability to consistently convert short 3rd and 4th down conversions.

Let’s take a look at different facets of their respective games and try to break this down through the following areas: passing, rushing, penchant for turning the ball over, supporting cast and moxie.

Passing

If you’re looking for sheer yardage then Cam’s your guy (Cam’s averaged 3,766 yards per season while Russell Wilson has averaged only 3,238 yards per season). For everything else though, Russ grades out higher than Cam. Let’s take a look at Russ’s first two years in the league vs. Cam’s first three years in the league (not quite apples-to-apples but one additional year helps to balance out Cam’s down 2012 campaign, so this works in his favor).

Career Completion Percentage: Russell Wilson – 63.6% vs. Cam Newton – 59.8%

60% completion percentage is considered to be the measuring stick and Cam Newton falls just below this line of demarcation. Meanwhile, Russell Wilson has posted a solid 63.6% career completion percentage. For sake of reference, here are other notable QB’s career completion percentage to date.

  • Drew Brees – 65.9%
  • Aaron Rodgers – 65.8%
  • Peyton Manning – 65.5%
  • Tony Romo – 64.6%
  • Philip Rivers – 64.4%
  • Russell Wilson – 63.6%
  • Tom Brady – 63.4%
  • Ben Roethlisberger – 63.3%
  • Cam Newton – 59.8%

In conclusion, Russell Wilson compares favorably to the best passers of our generation, while Cam falls well below the best NFL passers (he sits just above Eli Manning, who has a career completion percentage of 58.5%).

Yards per attempt: Russell Wilson throws for an otherworldly 8.09 yards per attempt, while Cam averages a respectable 7.66 yards per completion. Again, here are the big names and where Russell and Cam stack up:

  • Aaron Rodgers – 8.19 yard average
  • Russell Wilson – 8.09 yard average
  • Philip Rivers – 7.88 yard average
  • Ben Roethlisberger – 7.85 yard average
  • Tony Romo – 7.83 yard average
  • Peyton Manning – 7.69 yard average
  • Cam Newton – 7.66 yard average
  • Drew Brees 1 – 7.51 yard average
  • Tom Brady – 7.46 yard average
1

Although all of the above QB’s have played at least six or more seasons, Russell Wilson’s 8.09 yards per attempt ranks second among this list of sterling QB’s…pretty impressive. Cam is also right in the mix here, ranking just behind Peyton Manning and ahead of Drew Brees and Tom Brady.

TD to INT ratio is overwhelmingly in favor of Russell Wilson. Wilson sports a 2.74 TD to INT ratio, while Cam Newton boasts only a 1.52 TD to INT ratio. As my roommate Will and I discussed a couple of nights ago, Russ takes care of the football while Cam provides more upside but also the risk of turning the ball over.

As a result of the previous statistics, QBR and QB Rating favor Russell Wilson. Through two years Wilson has averaged a QBR of 65.8 and a QB Rating of 100.6 versus Newton who has career averages of 55.5 and 86.4, respectively.

Winner: Russell Wilson

Rushing

Cam’s your guy if you need to grind out a couple of yards on 3rd or 4th down off of right guard. He’s also your guy if you want to run the read option and get Cam out in space. Cam Newton has averaged nearly 700 yards rushing per season since he entered the league (678 yards per season to be precise). Cam eclipsed 700 yards rushing in each of his first two seasons in the league, while rushing for “only” 585 yards this season. To provide some perspective, Michael Vick has eclipsed 700 yards rushing only three times in his career. Cam Newton is 24 years old and has already surpassed this milestone in two of his first three seasons.

Russell Wilson can also find space and manipulate the pocket with his legs. He has amassed 1,028 yards from scrimmage rushing the football in his first two seasons (good for a 514 yard per season rushing average).

Although Wilson doesn’t get as many rushing attempts, he is nearly as prolific a runner as Cam Newton when you look at yards per carry. Cam Newton has averaged 5.6 yards per carry, while Russell Wilson is right behind, at 5.4 yards per carry. Also, Cam Newton is much more of a home run threat on the ground then Russell Wilson. Wilson moves the chains, while Newton breaks off big plays. Newton’s career long rush is a whopping 72 yards, while Russell Wilson’s career long rush is a mere 27 yard scamper.

Winner: Cam Newton

Taking Care of the Football

While Russell Wilson does attempt nearly 92 less passes per season than Cam Newton (400 vs. 492), he is much less likely to turn the ball over. As mentioned above, Wilson sports a 2.74 TD to INT ratio, while Cam’s TD to INT ratio is a measly 1.52. Both quarterbacks fumble the ball at about the same rate (about five times per season for each quarterback, so that’s a wash).

This one’s an easy win for Russ due to his outstanding TD to INT ratio.

Winner: Russell Wilson

Supporting Cast

This section is more of a gut call and based more on empirical evidence than hard data. In Russell Wilson’s two seasons, he played a major role in helping his team go a combined 24-8. That’s an incredible two-year stretch for any QB (average of 12 wins a season). When assessing Russell Wilson’s leadership and success as a Seahawk, one must also acknowledge his strong supporting

Marshawn Lynch

Courtesy of sfgate.com

cast. While Wilson does not have A-list receivers (Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin have been his top pass catchers this season), he does have one of the best running backs in football in Marshawn Lynch and a defense that has been the top ranked unit in each of the last two seasons. Seattle’s rushing attack has been ranked #3 and #4, respectively in 2012 and 2013 as well.

Cam also benefits from a strong running game (DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert comprise a formidable three-headed monster at running back when healthy). Carolina has ranked as the #11 and #2 rushing attack for the 2012 and 2013 seasons, respectively. Although Stewart only suited up for six games this season, DeAngelo Williams submitted another stellar campaign (1,176 total yards and 4 total TD’s). Carolina’s defense is also no slouch either, having steadily improved during Cam Newton’s first three years. Carolina went from the #27 ranked defense in 2011, to the #18 ranked defense last year and became the #2 ranked defense in 2013.

At the end of the day, Russell Wilson has benefited more from having the best defense in football and close to the best rushing attack for each of the last two seasons. Cam Newton did more with less, including making plays with his feet. The nod here goes to Cam.

Winner: Cam Newton

Moxie & My Final Decision

Although both QB’s have combined to play only five seasons (which limits my ability to truly determine each QB’s full abilities and projected career) my inclination is to pick Russell Wilson as my QB to build around for the next 10 seasons. While Cam rushes for more yards, has the propensity for making more explosive plays and does more with less, Russell Wilson’s efficiency and ability to extend plays with his feet and make smart decisions separates him by a hair from Cam Newton.

Let’s not forget that just a season ago the media and NFL experts across the country were calling for both Cam Newton and Ron Rivera to be removed as the QB and coach of this football team. Carolina finished the last season at 7-9 (albeit with four consecutive wins to close the season), in which they lost seven games by less than a touchdown due to poor end of game clock management and decision-making.

I’m confident that both QB’s will go on to have successful careers marked by several playoff appearances. Although both QB’s have hardly scratched the surface of their potential, I’m going with Russell Wilson and his supreme efficiency over Cam’s big-play potential. Tough call but I see too many great QB’s not get it done in crunch time because of poor decision making and the subsequent turnovers (re: Romo, Tony & Rivers, Phillip). When the talent level becomes a wash between two teams in a playoff game, turnovers normally tip the favor in one team’s direction, which is precisely why I am choosing Russell Wilson.

Winner: Russell Wilson

About Jim Armstrong

Jim is a life-long sports fan and split his childhood between the ‘burbs of Chicago and central NJ, while throwing in a summer living outside of Boston into the mix. This explains his passion for the 90′s Bulls, late 90′s/early 00′s Knicks and late 00′s Celtics (he will explain in a future post). Jim never played a minute of college basketball or football but did complete a Tough Mudder recently and continues to play in basketball leagues year-round. If this doesn’t make him an expert, then I don’t know what does. Jim crunches numbers for a living and enjoys applying these analytical skills to his sports obsessions. In his free time, Jim enjoys spending time with his family, fishing and writing.

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