Cam Newton And The History of Rushing Quarterbacks
Ken Pomponio
August 2, 2012

As runaways go, you have Bon Jovi's breakthrough 1980s hit, the 1984 U.S. Presidential election and the voting for 2011 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton won the latter going away, garnering 47 the 50 votes despite a strong field that also included Andy Dalton, A.J. Green and Julio Jones.

And, hey, that's exactly what supposed to happen when you throw for a rookie-record 4,051 yards and establish single-season QB standards for rushing touchdowns (14) and rookie rushing yardage (706).

But as good as he was in reality, Newton even was better in fantasy.

The first overall pick from Auburn burst onto the pro scene with back-to-back 400-yard passing games en route to 441 fantasy points and a fourth-place ranking among all players. To put those first-year feats in perspective, just compare Newton's 2011 to recent standout fantasy rookie seasons past:

  • Randy Moss' memorable 1998 Vikings' campaign in which he caught 69 passes for 1,313 yards and 17 TDs? No comparison. Newton's 2011 was a 210 points better.
  • Sam Bradford's impressive 2010 in which he threw for 3,512 yards and 18 TDs for the Rams? Not a chance. It still trailed Newton by 180 points.
  • Or how about Clinton Portis' Bronco breakout 2002 season in which he shredded opposing defenses for 1,862 total yards and 17 TDs? No comparison. It still was a full 160 points shy of Carolina Cam.

However, as impressive and dominant as the 6-foot-4, 245-pound Newton was a year ago, a repeat fantasy performance is anything but assured this fall.

Certainly, the QB's passing numbers will be reachable in this aerial-centric era, in which 4,000-yard passers seemingly are the rule (there were no fewer than nine this past season) rather than the exception.

But when it comes down to Newton duplicating his ground output -- which accounted for more than a third of the QB's 2011 fantasy production -- history says the second-year QB almost assuredly will come up noticeably short.

Nothing against Mr. Newton personally, but it's part of a well-defined trend involving quarterback rushing stats over the past two decades. It's as simple s this: QBs coming off strong rushing seasons nearly always see a sizable dip in their rushing numbers the ensuing season.


The increased attention from defenses, the wear and tear from the extra hits and the age-old NFL dictum that calls for its quarterbacks to be pass-first, throw-it-away-second and run-only-as-a-last-resort field generals all play major roles in sustaining the trend.

Just take a look inside the numbers. Setting 2011 aside for a moment, in the 20 years dating back to 1992, NFL quarterbacks have rushed for 300 or more yards in a season 56 times. Forty-six of those 56 saw their yardage totals decrease the following campaign, and they fell by an average of 203.3 yards per QB.

The decrease was so marked that 31 of those 46 quarterbacks failed to reach 300 yards that ensuing season.

When looking at 600-yard single-season QB rushers over that same span, the feat was accomplished seven times, but in all seven instances -- Michael Vick in 2010-11, 2006-07, 2004-05 and 2002-03, Daunte Culpepper in 2002-03, Donovan McNabb in 2000-01 and Steve McNair in 1997-98 -- a 600-yard-plus season proved elusive that second season.

In fact, most of the encores weren't even close with the seven follow-up efforts falling an average of 185 yards short of 600.

The 20-year trends pertaining to QB rushing TDs are even more definitive.

Quarterbacks have run for five or more touchdowns 31 times in that 1992-2010 span. In 28 of the 31 follow-up seasons, those totals decreased by an average of four TDs per QB.

The only outliers have been Kordell Stewart (remember Slash?), who jumped from five rushing TDs in 1996 to 11 a year later; Culpepper, who doubled his 2001 total of five TDs in '02 and Tim Tebow, who ran for six scores in both 2010 and '11.

Still, those three most definitely were the exceptions. In total, 26 of the 31 QBs rushed for four or fewer TDs the season after finishing with five or more scores.

Over that same 1992-2010 time frame, QBs posted 11 seasons with seven or more rushing scores. All 11 failed to rush for even six TDs the next year with an average decline of 5.4 touchdowns per QB.

Combining the two stats, however, most clearly defines the challenge awaiting Newton and his running QB counterparts on the ground this coming season.

Twenty times from '92 through 2010, an NFL quarterback rushed for 300 or more yards and five TDs in the same season. Only three times was that same QB also a member of the 300/5 Club the ensuing season: Culpepper in 2001-02 and 2000-01 and Stewart in 2000-01.

When the quarterback bar is raised to 500 rushing yards and five rushing TDs in the same campaign, the feat was achieved nine times in the two decades prior to 2011: Vick did it three times (2002, '05 and '10) while Culpepper ('02), Stewart ('01), McNabb ('00), McNair ('97), VInce Young ('06) and Randall Cunningham ('92) all got there once.

But along came the following season. All seven QBs failed to reach 500 and five that next year, with six of the nine season totals falling short of both marks.

McNair came the closest, following his 674-yard, eight-TD rushing campaign of '97 with a 559-yard, four-touchdown effort in '98.
In 2011, Newton easily dashed and smashed his way into the 500/5 Club with his 706 rushing yards and 14 scores. He was joined by the Broncos' Tebow, who finished his own magical season with 660 yards and six TDs.

Of course, now comes the hard part: Becoming the first to do it two straight seasons.

With Tebow now with the Jets and slated to start the season seeing situational action in back of starter Mark Sanchez, it leaves Newton with best shot at a repeat 500 and five.

And while history was most certainly on the Carolina QB's side in his stellar debut a year ago, it figures to be anything but an ally this autumn.

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