Because of 2012's quarterback class, Cam Newton and Andy Dalton became forgotten men. Last year's "class" flashed in in the same vein as 2004 and 1983. Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson emerged as viable superstars, Ryan Tannehill appeared to be potential franchise quarterback material and Colin Kaepernick -- technically a sophomore but lumped with this crew anyway -- nearly won a Super Bowl.
This year, though, the 2012 rookies of note are taking the power back. Specifically Dalton and Newton, who are having breakout seasons midway through 2013. Neither guy "struggled" in 2012, but the perception that they fell behind the Lucks and Wilsons of the world was definitely out there.
None of this is to say that last year's "Big Four Five" (I'm adding Tannehill for my own selfish purposes; he belongs there anyway) aren't good. Luck and Wilson are having particularly strong seasons. But as you can see in the table below, Dalton and Newton started to establish themselves over the first half of this season as premiere NFL quarterbacks.
|7||Robert Griffin III||2013||23||WAS||7||158||268||58.96%||1878||9||8||79.2||14||7.01||126||268.3||2||5|
Again: Luck and Wilson still very good. Those two guys and Kaep have their teams poised for a return to the playoffs.
But the growth in the respective games of Newton and Dalton is startling. Each of them is a highly criticized young quarterback. Newton couldn't refine his game enough for critics and Dalton couldn't expand his sufficiently. Until this year.
Dalton's improvement in completion percentage has been gradual in each of his three years. He appears poised to make another big leap in terms of volume statistics and should break 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns this year. His mistakes are limited. And his yards per attempt, perhaps most telling of an aggressive offense, has spiked up to 8.1.
Jay Gruden opened up the playbook for Dalton the last few weeks and he's responded with a phenomenal stretch of football, throwing 11 touchdowns and just two interceptions while averaging 345 yards per game passing. Dalton still isn't perfect on deep balls and will make the occasional boneheaded throw. But he's clearly growing as a quarterback.
The same can be said for Newton, who's also blossomed before our eyes over the last three weeks. His dominating, efficient play in the Panthers three-game winning streak has vaulted his season stats into a weird place.
Raw-volume wise, Newton's numbers could look much worse than they usually would. But in terms of efficiency? He's been substantially better this season, particularly over during Carolina's wins with 8.89 yards per attempt through the air. He's maintained his effectiveness on the ground and appears to be making much, much better decisions at the moment.
It's usually easy to measure growth as an NFL quarterback. Newton's emergence is more subtle and less telling in terms of statistics. There's signs of a second-half explosion.
The same holds true for Dalton. And right now in the land of the NFL, where quarterbacks receive unending career judgment with the passage of each game, both guys have their arrow firmly pointing up in their third year.
Eddie Lacy, RB, Packers: A potential Offensive Rookie of the Year winner, Lacy's coming on strong as the season nears its midpoint. He's got 395 yards in his past four games and even though he's just over four yards a carry, it's important to realize lots of those yards come when Lacy's closing out games for Green Bay. (They've won all four of them, three quite handily.) It's long been said that Green Bay doesn't need a running game and maybe that's true. But Aaron Rodgers looks particularly deadly as of late and it doesn't hurt his passing game when teams have to fear the violent, powerful running style of a guy like Lacy.
Cam Newton/Andy Dalton, QBs, Panthers/Bengals: See: Above.
Mario Williams, DE, Bills: Talk about a rejuvenation. Williams already has 11 sacks in 2013, a half sack more than he had all of last year. If you're the Bills, you're breathing a huge sigh of relief after inking Williams to a mammoth free-agent deal. He still needs to keep pouring it on in the second half, though, as Buffalo -- currently 3-5 -- will need to lean on its defense to win games down the stretch.
Mike McCoy, HC, Chargers: There are a lot of teams who have surprised so far in 2013, but it's hard to find a more pleasant surprise than the San Diego Chargers. More specifically: Philip Rivers. McCoy was known as a quarterback whisperer before he took the San Diego job but there was some doubt based on success with Peyton Manning. Rivers reclamation project might be a more impressive work than what McCoy did with Tim Tebow though. He's averaging 8.6 yards per attempt (Rivers led the league in YPA from 2008-2010 while averaging 8.4, 8.8 and 8.7 YPA, respectively) and completing an insane 73.9 percent of his passes. while cutting down on his mistakes.
Rex Ryan, HC, Jets: Rex getting canned after the 2013 season was fait acompli prior to the year. Now it looks like Ryan might end up keeping his job, provided he can coach the Jets up the same way in the second half that he did the first. They're a rollercoaster team this year but I think it might be more attributed to Ryan getting them to outplay the competition every other week more than anything else.
Matt Schaub, QB, Texans: After signing a contract extension in September of 2012, Schaub was set to be the starting quarterback in Houston for four more years. He barely made it four games into 2013 before being benched for rookie Case Keenum. There's chatter about how injured he is and there's also chatter about the Texans getting out from under his contract. It's really quite amazing how quickly things fell apart for Schaub and Houston. It really got out of hand fast.
Chip Kelly, HC, Eagles: Kelly's offense will be fine in the long run. But if you're a Philly fan there's reason to freak out a bit right? Three offensive points in the past eight quarters is absolutely terrifying and it sure looks like neither Michael Vick or Nick Foles (or Matt Barkley for that matter) is the perfect quarterback to run this offense. Kelly deserves time and the benefit of the doubt and in the NFC East the Eagles could still backdoor a second-half run to the playoffs. But the first half wasn't what we all imagined either.
Mike Wallace, WR, Dolphins: Wallace's stats are actually up on a per-game basis from his 2012 season in Pittsburgh but that's not saying much when he just signed a $60 million contract this offseason. Brought in to be the deep speed threat for Ryan Tannehill, Wallace has just one touchdown and just two 100-yard games. More concerning? Four of his seven games he's had under 50 receiving yards, and three of those he was held under 25 yards. It might not be all his fault (the line stinks) but Wallace is looking like a pretty massive free-agent bust thus far.
Josh Freeman, QB, Vikings: Not a good first half of 2013 for Freeman. Lots of folks thought he might struggle to succeed with the Buccaneers this year. He did, eventually being benched for Mike Glennon. The Vikings snatched Freeman off the free-agent pile and promptly made a massive mistake in starting him against the Giants in an embarrassing loss. Freeman laid a big old egg -- which wasn't necessarily all his fault -- and needs a big second half (whenever he's able to play) if he wants to get his stock back up before free agency.
Greg Schiano, HC, Buccaneers: Possibly the easiest midseason pick of anyone. You don't need me to recap Schiano's struggles here but suffice to say he's having a rough go of things in his second season. The Buccaneers are 1-12 in their last 13 games and to say that the fans are getting restless would be an insult to anyone with ADD.