Much like 2020 itself, Cam Newton as a fantasy football asset has been a wild roller coaster ride.
Flashback to the summer, when we learned that the former NFL MVP would have an opportunity to replace quarterback Tom Brady on the New England Patriots. Fantasy owners had all types of questions running through their minds.
Would Cam Newton get along with head coach Bill Belichick? Was he healthy after having surgery on his shoulder, and taking nine seasons of punishment as a glorified goal line back with the Carolina Panthers? Would the former Heisman Trophy winner and No. 1 draft pick even win the Patriots' starting job over fellow Auburn alumnus Jarrett Stidham?
Early on, all of the above questions seemed to be answered with resounding positive developments.
Coach Belichick praised Newton’s practice habits and camaraderie with the team. The concern Stidham would win the starting QB job was assuaged in August, with Newton taking the majority of first team reps. Most importantly, there were no whispers of anything physically wrong with Cam Newton, indicating that he was coming into the season healthy.
The great thing for fantasy owners was that they could invest in Newton’s tremendous upside at a relatively low cost in snake drafts. On Yahoo, Cam Newton was going as the 14th quarterback, and in CBS leagues he was going as the 13th quarterback. In ESPN leagues, he was going as the 106th player overall on average, which left him available in the 10th or 11th round of 10-team leagues.
Cam Newton's fast start was a fantasy football revelation
In New England’s first two games, Cam Newton came out like gangbusters, reminding owners of some of the peak campaigns he registered back in Carolina.
Against the Miami Dolphins in Week 1, he threw for only 155 yards but rushed for 75 yards and two touchdowns. The following week against the Seattle Seahawks, Newton threw for 355 yards and one touchdown, adding 47 yards and two more touchdowns on the ground. It was everything owners could’ve dreamed of—investing a late-round pick in a guy that was single-handedly winning weekly matchups.
Then things started to get a little hairy. Against the Las Vegas Raiders, “Superman” only threw for 162 yards and rushed for 27. Newton missed the following game against the Kansas City Chiefs due to a positive coronavirus test, then returned against the Broncos to post a passable stat line, buoyed by 76 yards rushing.
After the Broncos game, with a solid four-game sample size, it was becoming clear that Cam Newton’s fantasy value would be directly tied to his rushing production, since three out of his four games played resulted in passing yardage figures that most would deem mediocre. But if he was going to reach pay dirt on the ground, fantasy owners could live without production through the air.
Even with tempered expectations, Newton’s performance against the San Francisco 49ers last week crushed the souls of fantasy football owners and Patriots fans everywhere. He was a turnover machine, throwing three interceptions, and had little conviction or burst when he did decide to scamper out of the pocket, mustering 19 total rushing yards. CBS even brought out a classic Alanis Morissette tune to dramatize the despair of the afternoon.
What should fantasy football owners do with Cam Newton?
For what it’s worth, both Cam Newton and Bill Belichick are not blaming the quarterback’s struggles on his recovery from COVID-19, which can be encouraging from the standpoint that he’s completely symptom-free.
So what should fantasy football owners do now? It can’t possibly get much worse than the car crash of a game he had against San Francisco, so there should be some solace taken in that. But it seems clear that Cam Newton will probably not be the dominant force he was in the first two weeks of the NFL season.
The best advice would be to hold on to Newton to see if he can snap out of his funk.
If he ever regains the rushing form he had earlier in the season, and he’s left on the waiver wire for the competition to scoop up, it could lead to a lot of regrets. The Patriots have already passed their bye week, so if Newton can recapture his mojo, he’ll be an asset in most weeks leading up to the fantasy playoffs. New England plays the Buffalo Bills, the New York Jets, the Baltimore Ravens, and Houston Texans over the next month—while the Ravens matchup is less than ideal, he should be able to regain his momentum in the other three contests.
However, if you’re a fantasy football owner with a 2-5 record or worse and can’t afford to wait for Cam Newton to recapture his magic, it would be understandable to pivot towards QBs like Justin Herbert or Joe Burrow, who have had solid fantasy seasons on losing teams often in catch-up mode.
Patience is a virtue only if your team is in the thick of the playoff race and can afford for Cam Newton's downtrodden stock to pick up steam once again.