If anyone tells you they saw Panthers QB Cam Newton's spectacular performance in Week One coming, they're lying. Newton completed 24-of-37 passes for 422 yards with two touchdowns. He also added 18 rushing yards and one touchdown.
The only abnormality I saw was his 2.3 yards per rush average. Obviously, he'll improve that number but the real question is: Did anyone have him in their fantasy lineups? I have him in a high-stakes league but he was on my bench as Drew Brees racked up similar numbers so I don't feel too much pain at the lost point production.
For those who follow my columns, I was beginning to jump on the Newton bandwagon the last few weeks of the preseason, and said that should be taken as a No. 3 fantasy quarterback. His legs were my reasoning, not his arm — that's a bonus.
During the preseason and in Week One there were times when I realized that if he had made contact with the defensive back he would destroy them based on size alone. At times in life, you have snapshot moments and I had a snapshot moment when I realized the power and presence he commands. For fantasy owners, Newton's legs will be his strength this season despite his Week One performance. Once he gets into the secondary he's going to make fantasy owners happy as he often is going to run for big chunks of yardage.
Newton will be inconsistent through the air, but with WR Steve Smith and two solid pass-catching tight ends in Greg Olsen and Jeremy Shockey, he will surprise some weeks.
Many fantasy players might not realize it but Panthers offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski coached in San Diego along with head coach Ron Rivera. His specialty is the TE position and overall his résumé is impressive. A former tight end, he coached three All-Americans at Miami (Fla.) — Bubba Franks, Jeremy Shockey and Kellen Winslow. He coached Antonio Gates during his most productive seasons with the Chargers and was offensive coordinator for the 2007 Browns. That season, Cleveland won 10 games with TE Kellen Winslow and QB Derek Anderson going to the Pro Bowl, which is why Anderson's the backup QB with the Panthers.
It's no surprise, then, that Carolina and signed Shockey and traded for Olsen. Both players are threats in the open field. As veterans with 13 combined seasons, they should be effective in this offense. In Week One, Olsen had six targets converting them into four receptions for 78 yards. Olsen could have had a touchdown at the end of the game but Newton threw the ball high and out of bounds. Shockey caught all three of his targets and gained 51 yards.
WR Steve Smith had 11 targets for eight receptions for 178 yards and two touchdowns and is still top dog in the Carolina offense. But Olsen and Shockey are clearly a big part of the offense, too. A combined seven receptions for 129 yards (on nine targets) are elite numbers for any receiver much less a tight end. However, unless one of them takes control, gains Newton's complete trust and becomes the primary tight end like Gates in San Diego, it appears as if the duo will eat into each other's individual numbers.
As it stands now, Olsen is the one you want. Shockey is 31 years old and injury-prone to Olsen is 26 years old and entering his prime. Target Olsen but only look toward him as a bye-week or injury fill-in player for now.
Newton is going to be one of this week's top waiver-wire pickups and there's no reason you shouldn't put in your own claim. Don't pick him up and insert him into your lineup based on one game. Let's see how good he can do against the Packers, who in 2010 allowed opposing quarterbacks an average of 215 passing yards and one touchdown per game. Opening the 2011 season, we know Saints QB Drew Brees was 32-of-49 passing for 419 yards and three touchdowns against them, which is what makes this game intriguing.
Week One might have been a fluke for Newton and the Panthers but it was exciting to watch and it's creating a flurry of activity on the waiver wire this week. Now let's see if it carries over.