By Alex Levin
Most of you have probably heard by now about a particular high profile signing the Patriots made. For most signings, even the high profile ones, I can just make a small edit to the original projection and leave it at that. Swapping out Jarrett Stidham for Cam Newton under center, however, is no ordinary change. Cam’s unique talents and abilities demand an entirely different offense, something that I have no doubt Bill Belichick is aware of. As such, we bring you our revised Patriots projection!
Newton probably doesn’t need to be “babied” into the starting role, as it were, the same way that Stidham would likely need. However, that doesn’t mean he’ll be able to hit the ground running. Josh McDaniels’s offense is notoriously difficult to pick up, which means even modifying it to suit Newton’s skillset will likely come with a significant learning curve. To that end, regardless of who the quarterback is week one there is very likely to be a steep drop in total plays run.
Speaking of running, the arrival of Newton should lead to a sizable increase in New England’s run rate. A healthy Cam has typically logged upwards of 100 carries per year. Even given his age and recent injury history, if Cam is truly healthy coming into this season then 100 carries should be his baseline. This is a sharp contrast to Stidham, who couldn’t even log decent rushing numbers against college competition. As noted in the original article, having Stidham as the team’s QB will likely push the Patriots into a more run heavy offense to take the pressure off the young QB, but that would be through the running backs. With Cam running the show, the Patriots would likely become even more run heavy as they would likely try to create all kinds of misdirection with Cam and the running backs.
The one thing that probably would not change much is the positional target shares. Ultimately the Patriots have a very talented backfield, a somewhat talented receiver corps, and a very young an inexperienced tight end group. No matter who the QB is, Belichick and McDaniels know this and will work to feature the players who are actually worth featuring in the passing game. That isn’t to say the catch rates for each position will be the same. It is well known that Newton boasts a cannon arm with questionable accuracy. McDaniels will undoubtedly work on helping Newton with accuracy, but that ability to bomb it downfield has to be appealing.
Of course, this all assumes that A) Newton is currently healthy as he claims, and B) that he stays healthy through the whole season. Newton will have the advantage of much better protection in New England than he ever had in Carolina, which should help him on the injury front. However, his whole M.O. is to use his body as a weapon and invite contact, two things that tend to not result in sustained health.
Given the unique nature of New England’s situation, we will simply provide a second set of projections. The projections in the original article are our projections under the assumption that Stidham starts the whole season. The projections in this revised article will assume that Newton starts the whole season. Feel free to interpolate between those projections as you see fit based on how long you think Newton stays healthy.