Playbook mailbag: Newton or Dalton for ROY?

When Cam Newton was taken No. 1 overall in April, all eyes were focused on him. Analysts wanted to know whether he was just a one-year wonder at Auburn, a product of a spread system, an athlete with only a slight grasp of the passing game.

After 26 touchdowns this season — and with every “Superman” celebration — he has muted those questions.

Still, not everyone thinks he’s the runaway favorite for Rookie of the Year.

John Holt, on Facebook, posed Playbook this question: “Why does Cam Newton seem to get all the Rookie of the Year talk when Andy Dalton (and his similar stats) currently has his team in the playoff race?”

We agree. The Bengals rookie passer deserves to be in the discussion, as Dalton has proved to be light-years ahead of his time.

While he doesn’t have the runner’s prowess of Newton, or the arm strength, he has shown great anticipation and pre-snap intellect, which leads him to get the ball consistently out on time. With a fellow rookie, A.J. Green, as his deep target, Dalton has brought both explosion and efficiency to a Bengals’ passing game that lacked both in 2010.

Based on his performance and poise in a very tough AFC North, you have to note Dalton’s rapid development, especially considering a rough preseason when it was hard to watch the coaching tape — which showed plenty of late, inaccurate throws — and believe he could succeed at this level. Now, he’s done nothing but flourish.

At the same time, it’s hard to lean away from Newton as the top offensive rookie in 2011. He does have fewer touchdown throws than his AFC counterpart (13 to Dalton’s 17), but his 13 rushing touchdowns have been instrumental in keeping the Panthers in games this season.

Without his running threat, there is no way the Panthers and their porous defense lose to the Packers and Saints by a combined 10 points this year. His legs serve him well, but they also open up lanes for his running backs on zone-read option plays, holding linebackers who have to respect Newton’s ability to keep the ball and score (the same formula that has made Tim Tebow a success in Denver).

Plus, Newton is a far better passer than the Tebows of the world.

You also have to love the way Newton has played in spite of the criticisms coming into the year. He has surpassed all expectations when it comes to accuracy (he’s completing more than 60 percent of his passes), and Newton even has showed a willingness to hang in the pocket and wait for the downfield option to open up instead of running.

Either Newton or Dalton probably will win the award. Either way, both teams should be happy with their quarterback situation for years to come.

“Playbook” — the ultimate football Xs and Os show — airs Friday at 8 p.m. ET (AFC) and 9 p.m. ET (NFC) on NFL Network. Check the NFL Network broadcast schedule for further details. Follow “Playbook” on Twitter @NFLN_Playbook.

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