Matthew Stafford Vs. Cam Newton: Who’s Better?


The NFL is unveiling its Top 100 Players of 2012 and picks 100-31 are in the book. Two Lions have made the list so far in Matthew Stafford (41st best player) and Ndamukong Suh (38th best player) and Calvin Johnson is expected to make an appearance somewhere between 10-5 on this list.

While it should come as no surprise that Stafford has made the list, many are questioning a certain quarterback who ranked ahead of Stafford on this list, Cam Newton.

Newton was ranked one spot ahead of Stafford on the countdown as the 40th best player in the league while his passing yards, touchdowns, and wins were much lower than Stafford’s from last season. No doubt Newton is ranked so high because of what he is expected to do in the future, and his flashy and dynamic style of play.

What’s puzzling about this list is this: Matthew Stafford passed for over 5,000 yards, 41 touchdowns, led his team to 10 wins and a playoff birth just four years removed from an 0-16 season, yet he isn’t ranked in the top forty players of 2012? To add to the confusion Marshall Faulk recently stated that he doesn’t consider Matthew Stafford a top 10 quarterback because he has had only one full season, yet he ranks Cam Newton at nine on his list who also has only had one season to prove himself. How does that make sense? (The video of Marshall Faulk’s top 10 quarterbacks can be found here).

Statistically Stafford is better in every major passing category: passing yards, completion percentage, touchdowns, interceptions, passer rating, but there is much more to what these two quarterbacks bring to the table then stats, which can be very misleading.

To determine the better of the two quarterbacks we are going to put Stafford and Newton head to head.

Arm Strength: Both quarterbacks are known for having rocket arms, in fact,  both quarterbacks could easily be considered one and two in the entire league in this category. Cam Newton has shown great arm strength in his fist season. He completed many deep throws to (65 throws 20+ yards and 9 throws 40+ yards) and helped revitalize the speedy Steve Smith’s career. Newton also passed for over 400 yards in his first two games and broke Matthew Stafford’s rookie record for yards in a game. However, Matthew Stafford’s arm is widely considered stronger than Newton’s.

Greg Cossell of NFL films who does more film study on players than many of the high profile analysts had this to say of Stafford’s arm:

"“Let me bring you back to 2009. As I was preparing for that year’s draft, I remember watching Stafford and then immediately putting in a tape of Mark Sanchez. The difference in the way they delivered the ball was unmistakable from film study. There were throws Stafford could make that Sanchez couldn’t, and more importantly, wouldn’t even attempt because he knew he couldn’t. That’s the element that is always overlooked by those who minimize arm strength: The confidence and willingness of quarterbacks like Stafford to pull the trigger on tight window throws that demand velocity. Those throws are often the difference between winning and losing, but few recognize that because there is no quantifiable means by which to evaluate throws that are not made by quarterbacks with lesser arm strength.”"

It should be noted that Stafford also led Newton in passes completed over forty yards, completing 16 passes over forty yards to Newton’s 9 (stats can be found here).

Edge: Matthew Stafford

Accuracy: Cam Newton really turned heads in his first season. Coming into the league, many questioned his ability to throw accurately consistently. Scouts raved about his athletic ability and arm strength but were very critical of his ability to complete throws at the NFL level. Well, he proved the critics wrong.

In Newton’s first NFL season he completed 60% of his passes (Stafford only completed 53.3% of his passes as a rookie), while Stafford completed 63.5% of his passes in 2011.

Greg Cossell had this to say about Newton’s accuracy:

"“I watched every Newton snap in 2011, and the reality was he played exceptionally well from the pocket. He was poised and composed, decisive and accurate. He stood tall and delivered the ball in the eye of the storm. He made difficult throws into tight coverage.”"

Newton is undeniably exceptional, but at this stage of his career, Stafford is simply more accurate.

These are Cossell’s thoughts on Stafford’s accuracy:

"“Go back to the second week of the 2011 season, against the Kansas City Chiefs. Stafford threw a 36-yard touchdown pass to Tony Scheffler that few quarterbacks would have attempted. It began with his subconscious and intuitive belief that he could make the throw, and then it featured rare velocity and pinpoint accuracy. It was a snapshot of Stafford’s outstanding season, the kind of throw that distinguishes great NFL passers.”"

Stafford has improved his accuracy every year his been in the league. There are a lot of variables in a quarterback’s accuracy such as timing with his receivers and route running. Both can be perfected by countless hours of practice with the receivers and Stafford has simply had more time to do so with his receivers than Newton has.

Edge: Matthew Stafford

Dual Threat: There is no room for argument here, Cam Newton adds a  dimension to the game that not Stafford, nor any other quarterback, can bring to the game. The NFL has seen it’s fair share of scrambling quarterbacks, but non have had the blend of size (6’6″, 260 lbs), speed (4.5 forty), and agility that Newton does. Because of his size he is incredibly hard to take down, allowing him to get deeper down the field when he runs. His size also protects him from injury making him much more durable than other dual threat quarterbacks like Michael Vick.

Newton rushed for 706 yards and ran 14 touchdowns (NFL record by a quarterback), while Stafford rushed for 78 yards and scored one rushing touchdown in the post season against the Saints.

Edge: Cam Newton

Decision Making/Leadership/Moxy: Decision making and accuracy really go hand in hand. The better decisions you make, the better chance of success you have. With that said, knowing when to throw the ball in certain situations, having the guts to make big plays (moxy), and the ability to put the team on your back (leadership) also goes hand in hand with decision making.

Both Stafford and Newton have shown all of these attributes, unfortunately for Newton, Stafford has displayed more of these attributes.

Newton has a ton of confidence in himself. For example, before games he would put his
hands out and pretended to fly across the field, he also challenged Calvin Johnson to a game of Madden on youtube for the cover Madden cover vote title, but is Newton having fun or drawing attention to himself? His motives have been questioned at times, some have even said he is a completely different person off the camera, others say he has a very disingenuous smile.  Newton acknowledged some of the criticism in a recent interview with Hannah Storm. He acknowledged that he was a bad teammate at times this past season and that he pouted to much when loosing.

I give Newton major props for stepping up and acknowledging his poor attitude and “it’s about me” mentality, that took guts and maturity, and it is something I’m sure his teammates appreciated.

However, Matthew Stafford has never had to have a sit down with anyone and explain his poor behavior. Since joining the Lions in 2009 Stafford has been a true professional and has been a team captain every year he’s been in the league. Not once did any of his coaches or teammates doubt that he was going to be a huge success in the NFL and that is in large part due to the way he carries himself and leads by example.

The game that really sticks out to fans where Stafford displayed great leadership and moxy was in Cleveland during his rookie season. With seconds remaining and the Lions down, Stafford danced around the field avoiding Browns defenders left and right trying to make a play. Once Stafford found an opening he heaved the ball deep to the end zone ignoring the Browns’ lineman headed straight for him. When Stafford released the pass he took a crushing blow to the ground which resulted in a separated shoulder. The pass was not completed but only because there was pass interference in the end zone which gave the Lions the ball at the one yard line.

With a separated shoulder Stafford threw the game winning touchdown pass to Brandon Pettigrew. While Newton’s rookie stats are far superior to Stafford’s, it could be argued that Stafford made the bigger statement in his rookie season by establishing leadership and proving to a skeptical fan base that he is a future star.

Overall, Newton is a good teammate and has taken a step forward with his apology. I have no doubt that if he continues to step up and be a leader that he will be a tremendous success in the league, but Matthew Stafford is simply a better leader at this point.

Edge: Matthew Stafford

It seemed unfair to compare the two players as Stafford has had more chances to prove himself, however, they are virtually the same age (Stafford 24 and Newton 23) and they both have played only one full season.

At this point, it seems that Stafford is by far the better player. It will be exciting to follow both the careers of both Stafford and Newton. Both are rare gems because of their exceptional and unique abilities and what’s scary is they’ve both only played one full season.