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Russell Wilson is better, part III: I sack Newton

It seems like Cam Newton is sometimes "the forgotten man" when it comes to the best up-and-coming quarterbacks in the league, but he's younger than Wilson and just helped the Panthers back to the playoffs. But better than Wilson??? Nah.

He whispers, "you're better, bae"
He whispers, "you're better, bae"
Streeter Lecka

I may have hit the nail on the head when I said people love to argue about quarterbacks. Parts ONE and TWO have combined for nearly 1,000 comments. You should read those first, if you haven't, then come back here for more fun.

Defying the odds of what's usual acceptable for NFL draft evaluation, it doesn't seem too soon to call the 2011 class one of the best ever. In only three years, 20 members of the class have made the Pro Bowl at least once. Six, including Richard Sherman, have been named a first-team All-Pro. Three, including Sherman, have twice received that honor.

Three quarterbacks from that class made the playoffs last season and a fourth, Christian Ponder, "helped" the Minnesota Vikings reach the playoffs the year prior. One of those quarterbacks, Andy Dalton, broke franchise records for passing yards and touchdowns, which is impressive even if it's the Cincinnati Bengals franchise.

The two others to make the playoffs last year were Cam Newton and Colin Kaepernick, the first and 36th overall picks in 2011. It was the first year of the new CBA, which meant that the Carolina Panthers could select Newton and knowingly not have to sign him to an ungodly amount for an unproven rookie, and also that the San Francisco 49ers could select Kaepernick in the second round with less of a financial commitment. The Seattle Seahawks, desperate to find a long-term answer at quarterback, passed on both Dalton and Kaepernick, instead selecting guard James Carpenter at pick 25.

Out of context, it was a bad move. In context, I think they eventually ended up with the better player.

It's interesting to consider the fact that the 2010 Seahawks were an awful team playing in one of the worst divisions imaginable. Had they played a more difficult schedule, Seattle could have gone 3-13 or 4-12 and wound up with a selection high enough to select, if not Newton, then Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert, or Ponder. (The new CBA really incentivized teams to take a gamble on quarterbacks. But would Pete Carroll have really passed up an opportunity for a player like Von Miller, Marcell Dareus, Patrick Peterson, Aldon Smith, or JJ Watt?*)

(*Seriously, the 2011 class is unbelievable.)

Instead, the Seahawks ended up with a mostly-shitty offensive lineman in the first round of the 2011 draft, and an always-handsome quarterback in the third round of the 2012 draft instead. It may have not been what all of us wanted back then, but I would say it's still the right call today.

Here is a look at two* one premier quarterback from the 2011 class and why he ain't got shit on Wilson.

*I've opted to move Kaepernick to his own post in this series.

Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers

Me: "Tell me why Cam Newton is better, and why you'd rather have Cam Newton over Russell Wilson"

James Dator, Cat Scratch Reader:

It may sound like a cop out to say "They're very different players," but really that's the best answer I have. We're conditioned to putting quarterbacks into "Who's better?!" death matches and reduce the game of football into a one-on-one affair, and to this end I could rattle off a dissertation on Cam Newton vs. Colin Kaepernick, two players I feel resemble each other -- but really when we look at Newton vs. Russell Wilson the affair is very different.

Would I rather Newton to Wilson in a vacuum? That's tough, but based on how the Carolina Panthers are looking to run their offense and what they're trying to achieve then ultimately Newton is the right person here and I wouldn't change that.

Carolina's ideal is dominate both sides of the ball with big plays. They aren't focused on small passing gains where they could run the ball, instead they want to freeze defenses with the threat of Newton running, then branch big passing plays off the gaps in coverage that threat allows. While Wilson is certainly no slouch as a runner, nor does he has a small arm -- he doesn't have as big an arm as Newton, nor do defenses fear his running in such a way that forces a defense to commit significant resources to stop him like they do Newton. It's always fun to see a defense try to commit a defensive back to solo tackling Cam in the open field (spoiler: It doesn't go well).

Where I think both quarterbacks are similar is in how they elect to pull the trigger on plays when coverage is less than ideal. One of the maddening things about Wilson from a football perspective is watching him focus too much on the deep pass on 3rd and short when he could easily scamper for a first down. There are scores of times this pays to his advantage and he picks up a huge gain through the air, but I also remember a lot of plays from last season where a new series was left on the table. So too comes some of the frustration with Newton, who has a tendency to run too early in similar scenarios. There are times on 2nd and 7 (for example) where he'll run for five yards only to see that if he kept looking down field he could have found a tight end or outlet to pick up the first.

General Manager Dave Gettleman is steadfast in his belief that the way to build sustained success is through following the New York Giants' model he was a part of. That team was based on three tenets: Overwhelming pass rush, solid running, a quarterback who can improvise. Where I feel both Wilson and Newton are two of the league's best improvisers at the position, ultimately the receiving corps is being built here to cater to deep jump balls over YAC. This is a key reason why Cam is the right guy here.

It's not really my place to say objectively "Newton is better," but rather "in this situation he is." Wilson is a tremendous player in his own right, but in Carolina the team needs a guy who can create for himself and be prepared to take a lot of hits in the process. It sounds cliched, but durability is a concern when comparing someone of Wilson's size to that of Newton.

Fans are rarely, if ever, comfortable that the player that their favorite team selected in the first round will ever be "good enough" compared to someone else they could have drafted* and yet somehow the selection of Newton first overall in 2011, ahead of those many amazing young talents, still looks like a good choice. The game seems to come to him almost as easily in the pros as it did in college and that almost never happens for quarterbacks, let alone quarterbacks that won the Heisman Trophy.

*Most people would say they feel "comfortable" after that player has helped them win a Super Bowl, but consider for a moment that the three teams that have won a championship since that year took Prince Amukamara, Jimmy Smith, and Carpenter in the first round.  I'm certainly not "comfortable" that Carpenter was picked ahead of some other players just because Seattle won a Super Bowl with him, and the other two championship players in that first round aren't much better.

As a rookie, Newton broke the NFL record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback. Not a "rookie quarterback," but literally any quarterback to ever play in the league. He has rushed for 28 touchdowns through the first three seasons of his career, which is 11 more than any other true QB through three years. Though Kordell Stewart rushed for 17 touchdowns through his first three seasons with the Steelers, he also held the unique distinction of throwing like, well, Kordell Stewart.

Newton is perhaps the best and most-certified example of a quarterback that can truly pass and run the football at a Pro Bowl level. We know that Michael Vick can move with the football as well as any wide receiver in the league and has a rocket for an arm, but he can do neither consistently enough to win.

Kaepernick strides like a gazelle and makes faces like a gazelle and can make most of the throws ('cept one, amirite?) but doesn't have nearly as many starts under his belt as Newton.

Here we are through three years and Newton:

- Hasn't missed a start.

- Has thrown for 7.7 yards per attempt with just under 60% completions, 11,299 passing yards (fourth-most all-time through three seasons), 64 touchdowns and 42 interceptions.

- 2,032 rushing yards, most ever for a QB through three years.

- Improved the Panthers from one win to six wins to seven wins to 12 wins and the number two seed in the NFC.

For all the hoopla surrounding the league's current crop of young quarterbacks, somehow Newton seems to get lost in the shuffle a little bit. Despite the fact that he's actually still younger than Wilson, and Kaepernick, and only slightly older than Andrew Luck. Newton was 24th on the NFL Top 100 this year and while that might be a fair assessment based on their ranking values, it also clearly shows that the list is not a "who would you start a franchise with?" order. Because there aren't 23 guys I'd start a franchise with before Newton.

There might not be five guys ahead of him on a list like that.

But better than Russell "MF" Wilson?

Botch, plox.

Why Russell Wilson is better:

As you can plainly see, James really didn't have anything negative to say about Wilson, nor did he say he would rather have Newton "in a vacuum." I also don't have anything negative to say about Newton. But while I wouldn't say I "dispute" some of what James had to say about Wilson, I do have some minor rebuttals.

The "durability" point: Actually, Wilson's durability has never been an area of concern for me. Not any moreso than how a person worries about the well-being of their loved ones, at least. "Mom was supposed to be home with the McNuggets an hour ago. This is deeply concerning for two reasons."

There is a reason that after two years in Seattle, Wilson hasn't even had an injury scare. I also don't believe he suffered any injuries through four seasons of college football. We've heard a number of people say they'd be worried about Wilson's long-term durability, but I don't know that there's any evidence to suggest that being shorter equals more injuries. More important would be his BMI, which is only a little bit lower than Newton's. Both seem like equally good bets to stay healthy.

If Wilson gets hurt, then we will simply have to deal with it and move on, right after I'm done burning down every stadium in this motherfucking league.

Can Wilson run the Panthers offense: Clearly James has watched a lot of Seahawks football and has a better opinion of Wilson's positives and negatives than most people I've spoken to. He obviously knows more about Carolina's offense than I do. But I do think that even though Seattle has focused a lot on players who have an ability to make plays after the catch -- Golden Tate, Percy Harvin, probably Paul Richardson now -- we've also seen how good Wilson is at making the deep-ball completions.

Is Newton a more dangerous runner than Wilson? I would err on the side of "probably" because Newton has been on display more and proven to be one of the best running quarterbacks in the history of the NFL, but it's interesting to note that when he rushed for 14 touchdowns as a rookie, Newton averaged 5.6 yards per carry.

Last season, Wilson averaged 5.6 yards per carry.

Of course, with three "featured" running backs in their offense, nobody has an offense like Carolina. It's difficult to compare stats between the two players and make any definitive conclusions. If Wilson was working in the Panthers offense, there is a decent chance that his passing stats wouldn't be as good as they are now and if Newton was in Seattle's O, his stats may be even better. Right now there's a gap between the two and they lean in favor of Wilson, and that may be due to their supporting players and schemes.

So, is Wilson "better" than Newton? Not physically. I think both quarterbacks can make the throws they want to make and both can make plays on the ground that change the way teams are playing football right now. But from a mental standpoint, I don't see any advantages that Newton has over Wilson, yet I might be able to make an argument in favor of the smaller gentleman.

For one, Carolina has been improving but they still have issues in the red zone. Last season they finished 19th in Red Zone Scoring percentage (for touchdowns only) and it's been a consistent concern with Newton for as long as I can remember. You've got one of the hardest players to tackle in the NFL, a dangerous passer as well, but inside 20 yards it seems like the Panthers are much less of a threat. I can't really speak to whether or not Newton has the makings of a great football mind, but I can say that I do believe Wilson can get there. His short stature seems to have made him work that much harder to study opposing defenses and defensive players, picking up their tendencies, and improvising in the heat of the moment to make a better play than most quarterbacks.

Last season Wilson had more scrambles than Newton (or any QB) despite having fewer dropbacks to pass than most quarterbacks. Did it always work out? No. But it often did and he seems to make the right call about as much as you can hope for any young player.

I do worry a little bit about Newton's decision-making and ability to avoid mistakes. Though he passes more often than Wilson does (though not to an extreme amount) he's had more mistakes in the passing game. Newton has 12 games with at least two interceptions in his career, including five games with at least three picks. That also includes his lone playoff appearance, a two-interception game against the 49ers.

In 37 career games, including playoffs, Wilson has only three games with multiple interceptions. Two of those games came in the first half of his rookie season. Over Wilson's last 29 regular season games, he has a QB rating of 105.0 with 50 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. Over Newton's last 29 regular season games, he has a QB rating of 88.3 with 41 touchdowns and 20 interceptions. Again, different players around them, different schedules, different schemes, but at some point we have to equalize all of those differences and make a conclusion.

Wilson has faced San Francisco five times and he still hasn't had a two-interception game against them. We have not yet seen Newton win a playoff game in the way that we've seen Wilson lead the Seahawks back against the 49ers in the NFC title game, in the way that he led them back (to lose by no fault of his own) in a huge comeback on the road in Atlanta, we have not seen him dominate the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl.

When and if Newton can start to show the leadership, poise, and savvy that Wilson has shown throughout his young career (not saying that Cam cam't do that, but he hasn't yet) in the playoffs, then we can start to say, "Well, looks like we were wrong about him after all" but at this point Wilson has points in his column that Newton doesn't. I can't say that Newton has ever done anything that I think Wilson needs to do to prove himself against Newton.

It's sort of like signing up for a new internet service and seeing the multiple columns with check marks showing you what you get for the free version versus what you get by paying $9.99 per month. "Well, Hulu has all these features that are fine, but Hulu Plus has all those and more!" (Just get Netflix and Amazon Prime anyway, idiot. Hulu is the worst.)

Newton is Newlu. Wilson is Newlu Plus.

Russell Wilson is better and I'd also rather have Russell Wilson.

Coming up next... You've seen the Best, now see the West.