Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton is officially among the pantheon of NFL greats. He was awarded the MVP trophy Saturday night, becoming only the sixth player in history to win both the Heisman Trophy and the Associated Press NFL MVP award. He is also the fourth player in the last eight years to win both MVP and Offensive Player of the Year in the same season.
It wasn't a particularly close race, either -- Newton got 48 of the 50 writers' votes, with Tom Brady and Carson Palmer receiving the other two.
The No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, Newton has enjoyed a fine career, but one filled with a lot of "what if" questions. He answered those questions emphatically in the 2015 season. Despite losing top receiver Kelvin Benjamin to a torn ACL in training camp, Newton went on to have his best season yet, reaching career highs in passing touchdowns with 35. He is the first quarterback in NFL history to have 35 passing touchdowns and 10 rushing touchdowns in the same season.
Newton's prowess in the running game is well-documented, but what really stuck out in 2015 was his mastery of the pocket passing game. Standing down against relentless pressure, Newton consistently went through his reads and delivered bullet passes with ease, hitting targets in places no defender could ever hope to cover. In addition to getting a career year out of tight end Greg Olsen, Newton also made Ted Ginn into a viable No. 1 receiver rather than a punchline. He also got productive games from the likes of Corey Brown, Jerricho Cotchery and rookie Devin Funchess.
The MVP award is just a stepping stone for Newton, who is set to play in his first-ever Super Bowl on Sunday. He won the Heisman Trophy in 2010, the same year he led Auburn University to a national title. The last Heisman recipient who won the MVP was Barry Sanders, who shared the award with Brett Favre in 1997. Paul Hornung, O.J. Simpson, Earl Campbell and Marcus Allen are the only other players who have taken home both awards.
Newton has many vocal critics, but those doubting voices are dying down with every accolade he earns. In his fifth year in the NFL, Newton has established himself as one of the top smiling faces of football.
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Super Bowl 50: Panthers players impersonate Cam Newton