Cam Newton isn't first MVP quarterback, but he's still one of a kind

SAN FRANCISCO -- From the culture to the nationalities to the architecture, San Francisco is one of the most diverse cities in the country.

So it seems like the perfect place for Carolina Panthers star Cam Newton, with arguably the most diverse skill set the NFL has seen at quarterback, to be named the league's most valuable player Saturday night.

He has in many ways redefined his position with his size (6-foot-5, 260 pounds), arm strength and ability to control games with designed runs out of the read-option in an offense that coordinator Mike Shula built around him.

"God's not making another Cam Newton for a long time," said Hall of Fame wide receiver Cris Carter, an ESPN analyst. "He broke the mold when he made him. There'll be a lot of big guys. They're just going to be big guys. They're not going to be Cam Newton."

The case for Newton being the league MVP is simple: He dominated defenses during the regular season, throwing a career-high 35 touchdown passes and a career-low 10 interceptions for team that lost just once. He also rushed for 10 scores.

Newton's ability to keep teams off-balance with his threat to run on any play helped Carolina to an NFL-best 31.2 points per game. Seven times he threw for at least one touchdown and ran for at least one.

Some might be distracted by Newton's on-field celebrations and his recent comments about being an African-American quarterback "that may scare a lot of people because they haven't seen nothing that they can compare me to."

But the Panthers wouldn't be preparing to face the Denver Broncos on Sunday in Super Bowl 50 without Newton.

His skill set has made him, as Denver cornerback Aqib Talib said, "the most dangerous quarterback in the NFL."

The real MVP might be the Panthers for their willingness to build an offense around Newton's abilities instead of trying to turn him into the traditional drop-back clone. They let Newton, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 draft, grow into an all-around threat -- even when wins didn't come easy.

Former Super Bowl and NFL MVP Kurt Warner said many quarterbacks aren't ready to step from the less-complicated systems of college football to the NFL. He included Newton, who played only one year of major college football at Auburn, in a system that didn't require him to line up under center.

"Those of us that were good at it, it took us an entire lifetime to learn how to be good at it," said Warner, who made his first NFL start when he was 28.

Hall of Famer Steve Young was nine years removed from Brigham Young University when he won the first of his two league MVPs with the San Francisco 49ers. He went from a quarterback who ran and had a low completion percentage to a prolific, accurate passer with the ability to run. He has seen that with Newton.

"Cam transitioned this year where he's not going anywhere until he has to," Young said. "It's a whole mindset, the mastery of the pocket. Now he can enter in and say, 'I don't need to run. I can. I can run over you, but I don't have to.'

Despite running a career-high 132 times this season, Newton hasn't taken off at the first sign of pressure. He's running more because he's healthier than he has been at any point in his career, and he's doing it on designed runs when he sees opportunities.

Newton's progress as a passer has been evident over the course of this season. His passer rating the past 11 games, including the playoffs, was 102.2 after an 80.2 rating the first seven games. His confidence soared when he threw five touchdown passes in the 10th game, against Washington, starting a streak of three out of five games in which he threw five touchdowns. He threw 20 touchdown passes and one interception over the final seven games of the regular season.

"He's starting to see the possibilities of what he can do from the pocket," Young said.

Former Indianapolis Colts president Bill Polian gushed about how he never doubted Peyton Manning would be a successful NFL quarterback when he selected him with the first pick of the 1998 draft.

Then the conversation turned to Newton, who had a passer rating of 85.4 during his first four NFL seasons, averaging only seven more touchdowns a year than he did interceptions.

"I did, actually," Polian said when asked if he had doubts about Newton succeeding. "His first couple of years were not indicative of long-term success."

Polian wasn't alone in his early concern. In a 2013 ESPN.com story rating five young quarterbacks -- Newton, Russell Wilson, Andrew Luck, Colin Kaepernick and Robert Griffin III -- Newton was a distant fifth.

Polian, now an ESPN analyst, credits Shula and the rest of the coaching staff for designing an offense that fits Newton's talent. He also credited Newton for his willingness to adapt and put in the hours off the field it takes to succeed.

"He had to adjust to the league, and the league has not adjusted to him," Polian said. "There's no one else like him in football. I went to the Senior Bowl last week and I saw [Mississippi State's] Dak Prescott, which a lot of people are advertising as the second-coming of Cam. Well guess what? He's not. He's 225 pounds.

"Cam weighs in pads 50 pounds more. There isn't a second coming of Cam. If there is, I haven't seen him yet."

Newton has been dissected and analyzed more than any player at Super Bowl 50. He has been called an athletic quarterback, an African-American quarterback and a running quarterback. He has been praised and criticized for his personality and style.

Newton summed up what he really wants to be known as.

"A Super Bowl quarterback," he said.

His diverse skill set gives him a chance to succeed for many years to come, as long as he avoids injury.

"Cam's different because he can run between the tackles in a way that no other quarterback can," Warner said. "He has the ability to throw deep, and now he continuously grows in the intermediate part as a pocket passer.

"So it's been fun to watch, because I didn't think athletically at this level anybody could sustain that at the quarterback position."

Carolina backup quarterback Derek Anderson says it's time for people to stop looking at Newton as an athletic quarterback and call him a great quarterback.

"I don't think people treat him fairly," he said. "He's not what [old-school NFL] wants to see. For over the course of 50 years in this league it's been a prototype, pocket passing, a guy that really toes the line and does the yes-sir and goes and slaps fives.

"I know he's said it, but there hasn't been a player like him."