With just one season as a starting quarterback in college, Cam Newton was supposed to be a raw product coming out of the draft, an inexperienced talent who was ill-prepared for the NFL.
It might be time to reconsider that line of thinking.
Total yardage can be misleading, though. Nobody questioned Tom Brady's election as MVP last season, even though he finished just eighth in passing yards. At Football Outsiders, we measure players by defense-adjusted yards above replacement (DYAR). We analyze every play of the NFL season and adjust it for down, distance, score, field position and other factors. Players are rewarded not just for gaining yards, but also for picking up first downs -- a 6-yard gain on third-and-10 is worth barely any more than an incomplete pass. (We do not yet calculate entertainment value above replacement, but if we did, Newton's air guitar solo in the end zone would probably also score highly.)
Newton finished with 150 total DYAR yesterday. That's an excellent figure -- the second highest of the day -- but it's not the best rookie performance in NFL history. Here are the top 10 rookie quarterback performances since 1992, judging by total DYAR:
Two things to note here. First, this is ranking by total DYAR, including passing and rushing. Newton's passing DYAR (159) would have made the list by itself, but he finished with negative rushing value, as eight of his runs gained 3 yards or fewer. Also, look at the far right column. All of these quarterbacks had played at least a third of a season when they posted these elite games, and most had at least three months of on-the-job training. Nobody has come close to playing like Newton did in their first action.